Florida lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a bill that would allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons when they evacuate during hurricanes or other emergencies.
The legislation, supported by the National Rifle Association, would give gun owners a 48-hour exemption from needing a license to carry a concealed weapon during an evacuation.
Supporters pointed to the looting seen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as a reason to approve the exception for law-abiding gun owners. But opponents said carrying firearms in such stressful situations could make shelters more dangerous.
"It’s preventative and most likely will save lives,” said state Senator Joseph Abruzzo, a Democrat from Palm Beach County, noting that guns left unattended in homes could be stolen.
The guns could not be openly displayed, but could be locked in glove compartments or stored safely with a person’s belongings in a shelter.
The state Senate voted 29-10 to send the bill to the House of Representatives, which passed a similar measure last year. That version did not clear the Senate, but the 48-hour limit is expected to improve its chances this year.
The timing could be extended by the Florida governor in a longer emergency.
Despite national controversy over Florida's lenient gun rules, lawmakers defeated efforts last year to repeal the state's "Stand your ground" self-defense law.
Legislators from urban areas generally opposed the bill, while those from conservative regions tended to support it.
“Katrina really is a good reason why we shouldn’t want to do this,” said Senator Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat.
“Emotions are high and people are fleeing. Why in the world would we want to increase anxiety by having a lot of guns next to children and families?” she asked.
(Reporting by Bill Cotterell; Editing by Letitia Stein and Peter Cooney)