Over the objections of the Florida Sheriffs Association, the Florida House has passed a bill that would allow all gun owners to conceal their weapons in public during hurricane evacuations, toxic events, and riots.
The bill, HB 209, which was strongly supported by the National Rifle Association, passed 80-36, according to the Miami Herald.
Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, (R-Fort Myers), who sponsored the bill, called it a win for liberty.
“The bells of liberty are surely ringing throughout Florida today,” she said. “We are making sure that no Floridian in lawful possession of a firearm must leave it behind while evacuating in an officially declared state of emergency.”
However sheriffs from around the state opposed the bill, calling it “crazy.”
“The bill is crazy, it’s absurd,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
Gualtieri and the Florida Sheriffs Association lobbied against the bill, describing it as too vague, pointing out that there is no way to know for how long, or in how large a geographic area, a gun owner might qualify to conceal a weapon after an evacuation order.
Additionally the sheriffs were unhappy with the wording of the bill, particularly the phrase “in lawful possession” of guns, which may not be the same as a lawful gun owner, and could therefore apply to adult children or spouses of gun owners with clean criminal records who are found carrying guns.
Currently, Floridians must have a concealed carry permit to carry in public without the weapon showing.
Former sheriff, and current Florida Senate member Charlie Dean, (R-Inverness), previously supported the bill but now opposes it because of its vagueness.
“At what point do we have control over knowing when someone is no longer evacuating?” said Dean. “In most of my experience, officers are there to help you in an emergency. I’m not really sure what advantage you have by sticking a gun in your belt.”
Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, a former New York City transit cop, agreed saying it would make the job of law enforcement even more risky during emergencies.
“You are introducing concealed firearms in an environment that is already teeming with tension,” explained Torres. “If this bill passes, I hope that tragedy is not a byproduct of our decision here today, and if it is, I hope we are ready to accept responsibility.”
Disregarding recent controversies over Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, Rep. Jimmie Smith, (R-Inverness), said concerns over the new law are overblown.
“Every single time we’ve made changes to protect the Second Amendment rights of people, we hear about this wild wild west,” Smith said. “It’s going to be more dangerous. Shootings everywhere. And yet, we have one of the lowest rates of crime we’ve ever been at.”