The Florida House approved HB 543 on a mostly party line 76–32 vote, with one Republican, Rep. Vicki Lopez of Miami voting with 31 Democrats in opposition.
The measure, and its Senate companion, SB 150, does away with background checks, training, and fees for a concealed-carry weapons license. The Department of Agriculture has issued more than 2.66 million CWLs.
“This bill simply allows Floridians to conceal carry without red tape and expense. Florida will not come between you and your freedom to protect yourself anymore,” said Rep. Chuck Brannon, R-Macclenny, who has sponsored the measure the past two sessions.
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Brannon and his allies criticized the licensing process as having to pay for a “government permission slip” to exercise a constitutional right to protect oneself and one’s family.
“A constitutional God-given right endowed by our creator,” explained Rep. Adam Botana, R-Naples, with a reference to the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Democrats argued supporters twist the Second Amendment into a “dangerous concept.”
Rep. Michelle K. Rayner-Goolsby, D-Tampa, added that whenever lawmakers discuss gun laws “everyone becomes a YouTube lawyer.”
“The right of the people to keep and bear arms (shall) not be infringed does not mean that you’re not registering it. Does not mean there are no rules and guardrails … This is insanity,” said Rayner-Goolsby.
Earlier, Rep. Dan Daley, D-Sunrise, told the Tallahassee Democrat the bill’s supporters talk a lot about the constitution, “but they must have read only the CliffsNotes version.”
Daley, a corporate lawyer and CWL holder, noted in debate on the House floor that more than 7,600 CWL applicants were denied by the state in 2021.
“Think about that for a second. That’s 7,600 more guns on the street because they are not going to know they are not permitted to carry (a gun) in the state,” said Daley.
He called the loosening of gun regulations “insane.”
The measure is a priority for House Speaker Paul Renner and supported by Senate President Kathleen Passidomo.
DeSantis has said he will sign the bill.
Aligning House and Senate bills
Second Amendment advocates had pushed for an amendment to allow open carry in Florida. Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Riverview, filed it. Passidomo said she would not support it, and Beltran withdrew it Tuesday.
The Florida Police Chief Association and the NRA Institute for Legislative Action endorse both bills.
A provision in HB 543, and its Senate companion, SB 150, boosts spending on safety upgrades for schools and to allow armed “guardians” to patrol private schools. The one amendment the Republican majority accepted from Democrats adds the names Chris Hixon, and Scott Beigel to the Aaron Fes Guardian Program, which allows school personnel to be armed.
The law was passed after the 2018 shooting at Parkland high school. Hixon and Beigel were teachers and among the 17 killed during a Valentine’s Day massacre.
Another measure that passed in the wake of the Parkland killings raised the minimum age to purchase a long gun to 21.
March for Our Lives blasts DeSantis: ‘The cost is Floridian blood’
A second House measure would repeal the Parkland era bill and lower the legal age to purchase a rifle to 18.
March for Our Lives, a gun regulations group formed after the Parkland shooting, demonstrated against both bills Thursday in Tallahassee.
David Hogg, a Parkland survivor who emerged as a student spokesman after a gunman turned the school’s hallways and classrooms into a killing field, blamed DeSantis’ political ambitions for this year’s effort to loosen gun regulations.
“DeSantis and his billionaire backers are willing to hand over our lives for whoever will fund his campaign, even if the cost is Floridian blood,” he said.
A ‘political carry bill’
Democrats echoed Hogg’s comments Friday with Daley dubbing Brannon’s proposal a “political carry bill designed to advance the agenda of one individual, our governor, as he tries to be president.”
A University of North Florida poll found that 70% of Florida voters oppose the measure.
“Folks, this bill, as has been said many times, will ensure that Florida will join at least 25 other states. And, if we’re the 26th, that’s the majority of the country allowing law-abiding citizens, law-abiding citizens to make the choice to concealed carry for lawful self-defense without first having to clear the government hurdles,” said Brannon.
Rep. Lavon Bracy Davis, D-Ocoee, was not impressed with the supporters’ arguments.
She wondered why lawmakers were making it harder to get books but were making it easier to get guns.
A Black woman representing a minority-majority district, she said the proposal would create confusion, lead to profiling of Black and brown Floridians, and was a nutty idea given that there has been more than 100 mass shootings so far this year.
She warned the Republican leadership they may dismiss her today when the votes are on their side, but she and others would not stop fighting an agenda to repeal gun regulations.
“You may call me a dreamer,” Bracy Davis said, quoting John Lennon, who was gunned down the year the freshman lawmaker was born, “but I’m not the only one.” .
HB 543 will be sent to the Senate where a similar proposal, SB 150, has cleared committees and waits to be scheduled for debate.
Second Amendment advocates failed to amend the House bill to allow open carry and have little chance to get the provision added in the Senate.
Senate President Kathleen Passidomo has said she would not support open carry and a House amendment to allow the open display of handguns in public was pulled Tuesday.
That means, the Senate has a choice, but most likely for expedience will take up the House bill and send it to DeSantis.
The Florida Police Chief Association and the NRA Institute for Legislative Action find differences in the measures insignificant.
On this issue, DeSantis has said he will sign whatever lawmakers send him.
Ana Goni-Lessan contributed to this report. James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahasse