Nearly every anti-gun group in the country has descended upon Tallahassee to try to stop Florida from becoming the 26th state to allow residents and visitors to carry concealed firearms without a permission slip from the government.

It’s an important mission for the gun-ban industry, because once Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the bill – and he will – a majority of states will allow unlicensed or permitless carry. For pro-gun advocates, this would be a significant victory in the war to restore our Second Amendment rights, and the other team will do anything they can to prevent that from happening.

It’s important to point out that neither Florida’s HB 543 nor its companion bill, SB 150, are traditional constitutional-carry bills, since neither bill legalizes the open carry of arms. True constitutional carry allows gun owners to decide for themselves whether to carry arms openly or concealed. Despite Republican super-majorities in both the House and the Senate, and a governor who’s promised to sign “constitutional carry” legislation, open carry was not included in either bill. We still have not been told why, at least not officially.

In what has been called “smart bundling,” SB 150 also includes numerous school-safety provisions, such as expanding Florida’s School Guardian program, adding funds for hardening schools, providing additional money for gun-sniffing dogs, clarifying zero-tolerance policies and ensuring every law enforcement agency has an active-shooter policy. So, a vote against the bill can be seen as a vote against school safety.

Regardless of what the bill is called or its other offerings, the very thought of restoring more gun rights – especially in Florida – has brought the gun-banners out in droves. We’ve seen members of Everytown, Demanding Moms, Demanding Students, Giffords, Brady and Florida’s extremely anti-gun League of Women Voters all shuffle to the mic. Their testimony before House and Senate committees has been interesting, desperate and at times, comical. If the gun banners sent their A-team to Tallahassee and this is the best they can do, freedom will most certainly prevail.

It’s clear the gun-banners’ moves are well organized and orchestrated. Too many of their objections seemingly come from the same playbook. Keep in mind anti-gunners have phones, Skype and Zoom, too. They’re sharing information and ideas. Florida has become their latest battle template. They are throwing a lot of crap against the wall. That which sticks likely will be used in the next state they attempt to victimize.

Here are some of the lowlights of their testimony.

‘Untrained carry’

Currently, unless the gun owner has a DD 214, they must provide proof of training before qualifying for a Florida Concealed Weapon or Firearm License, or CWFL. One of the byproducts of HB 543 and SB 150 is an end to this training requirement because a CWFL will no longer be needed to carry a concealed firearm.

As you can imagine, more than a few rabid Demanders railed against “untrained carry,” even though nothing could be further from the truth.

Their tactic was unwittingly bolstered by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who serves as the legislative chair of the powerful Florida Sheriff’s Association. Gualtieri testified about how poor some of this mandatory training had become. He described several firearm instructors who only required students to shoot one round into a water barrel before issuing them the certificate needed to obtain a CWFL.

Gualtieri’s comments, which are somewhat dated, set off a firestorm among the anti-gunners. Rather than allowing unlicensed carry, they said, the state should fix these training issues. The bills’ Republican supporters never adequately explained how any government requirement, even a training requirement, infringes upon the Second Amendment.

The gun banners never acknowledged that most Floridians who choose to carry a concealed firearm will seek professional training first, nor did they ever mention the more than 1.5 million well-trained veterans who call Florida home, many of whom have already put their training to use downrange.

‘No one wants the bill’

Most of the pro-gun advocates who testified at the House and Senate hearings said they supported the bill, but they wanted it amended to include open carry. One Demanding Mom seized upon this. “Apparently no one’s for this bill today,” she said. Several Democrats on this committee echoed her comments and called for the bill to be withdrawn.

It should be noted that NRA, GOA, NAGR and Florida Carry, Inc., have all voiced support for the legislation. Sure, it is hoped that it will be amended to include open carry, but it is still the most significant restoration of our gun rights since 1987. This was ignored by the legacy media who covered the hearings.

Frivolous amendments

It is clear the Democrats tried to amend these bills to death. However, every amendment the Democrats tried to tack on failed, which is a good thing for gun owners since they would have scuttled the legislation. Here are some of their amendments.

The Democrats wanted gun owners to:

  • Obtain $100,000 worth of insurance if they “opt out” of the CWFL program and carry concealed.
  • Be prohibited from possessing homemade firearms.
  • Be prohibited from carrying in grocery stores, gas stations, music venues or any religious institution.
  • Be prohibited from open carrying at concert venues and polling places. (Under current law, open carry at polling places is already prohibited, as is concealed carry at polling places.)
  • Be prohibited from carrying firearms in cars.
  • Submit to background checks for private sales or when a firearm is loaned to family members for hunting or recreation.
  • Take a firearm safety class and pass a written exam.
  • Provide a written statement from a Florida physician certifying they are mentally fit and free of drug abuse.
  • Pass a mental health exam and drug screen.
  • Take and pass a one-day firearm class that includes a live-fire test.
  • Establish secure storage for guns and ammunition, which would be inspected by a law enforcement officer.
  • Submit to fingerprinting and a background check.
  • Be limited to carrying only one firearm at a time.
  • Be prohibited from carrying a firearm if convicted of domestic violence. (Florida law already prohibits someone with a domestic-violence conviction from carrying a firearm.)

False Equivalencies, false statements  

Throughout the bills’ three committee hearings there were numerous comparisons between driving a car and carrying a firearm: “You need a license to drive a car so you should also need a license to carry a gun,” they said.  To be clear, driving is a privilege, but carrying a firearm is a constitutional right. Therefore, you don’t need a license to exercise a constitutional right.

Both HB 543 and SB 150 enjoy strong support from law enforcement, including the Florida Sheriff’s Association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Police Benevolent Association, which represents rank-and-file officers and deputies. Despite this strong support, nearly everyone who testified against the legislation claimed that law enforcement opposed these bills because it would make their job more difficult. Even after Sheriff Gualtieri testified that the bills would not prove problematic for his deputies, the false claims continued unabated.

Going forward

Florida’s unlicensed concealed-carry bills are rocketing through the state legislature. Since the Republicans have super-majorities in both houses, no roadblocks are foreseen. The next legislative session begins March 7 and Gov. DeSantis will likely sign this legislation into law far sooner than its July 1st effective date.

Lee Williams is a board member of Florida Carry, Inc.

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