Is Florida About to Become Number 46? Open Carry Legislation Moving Through Committees

Florida is one of only five remaining states where the open carry of handguns is routinely banned.  That would change if it was up to the father-son duo of Rep. Matt Gaetz and Sen. Don Gaetz.

Both legislators have filed matching bills that would let Floridians with concealed-weapons licenses openly carry their handguns.  On Tuesday, October 20, 2015, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee passed Sen. Gaetz’s bill (CS/SB 300) and sent it on to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.  Meanwhile, in the State House of Representatives, Rep. Gaetz’s bill (CS-HB 163) was passed by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee and referred on to the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee the day before.  Both bills have a ways to go, but are advancing.

The Florida Sheriff’s Association has come out against the bills, but more and more sheriffs are individually speaking out in support.

Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith spoke before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on October 20th and  gave his support to the measure to allow people to openly carry guns. “I believe in the right of a person to protect themselves and their family the way they best feel comfortable,” Smith said. “Some people don’t like guns. I’m OK with that. Get a can of wasp spray if it works for you.”  Sheriff Smith said he calls the measure the “crime prevention 101 bill” because “criminals pick soft targets.”

Wakulla County Sheriff Charlie Creel, Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen, and Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey have all spoken out in favor of the bills.  McKeithen said as an officer sworn to uphold the Constitution, open carry came down to supporting the Second Amendment.  Ivey testified in support of the Open Carry bill in the House Criminal Justice Committee on 10/06/15.  Watch his testimony here:

The Florida Chamber of Commerce said it supports the bill so long as lawmakers add more assurances in it to protect private property rights.   As proposed, the bill doesn’t prohibit private property owners from banning guns on their own land as they’re able to do now.

“This doesn’t change who carries or where they carry, only how they carry,” said Eric Friday, a lobbyist for the gun-rights group Florida Carry.

Subject to the provisions of s. 790.06 and s. 790.10, “a person licensed to carry a concealed firearm or weapon pursuant to this chapter may openly carry such firearm or weapon; however, except as otherwise provided by law and in subsection (2), it is unlawful for any other person to openly carry on or about his or her person any firearm or electric weapon or device.”

The Florida Statutes would direct the judiciary to “employ strict scrutiny in reviewing any statute that implicates the right to bear arms or defend one’s self….”

The right to bear arms is “a fundamental and individual right that exists in any place that a person has the right to be, subject only to exceptionally and narrowly tailored restrictions that employ the least possible restriction on the right in order to achieve a compelling government interest.”

Aside from granting the right to openly carry, the legislation also narrows the standard by which police can make an arrest if they suspect someone is unlicensed while carrying a weapon, either concealed or openly.  The more broad “reasonable grounds” standard would no longer be a sufficient option; police would need to have a stricter probable cause that someone was unlawfully carrying either open or concealed in order to approach and affect an arrest.

Under the bill, any government official who infringes on the rights of a licensed gun-owner to openly carry without having probable cause would be subject to a civil fine of $5,000, and municipalities could be sued for $100,000.

The Florida legislative session begins in January 2016 and these bills are sure to garner attention.

If passed, would you be more likely to carry openly or would you still carry concealed, and why?  Let us know.

the Senate Criminal Justice Committee October 20, 2015.

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