Florida could soon become the 26th state to allow people to carry concealed loaded guns anywhere without a permit, a growing trend that has gun safety advocates concerned.
Republican leaders in the Florida Legislature have stated that they intend to introduce and advance such legislation when the legislature reconvenes on March 7.
Conservatives and gun rights activists have dubbed the category of legislation “constitutional carry,” despite the fact that no provisions in the Constitution expressly grant the right to carry concealed, unlicensed weapons. Gun control and gun safety activists, as well as neutral groups, prefer to refer to this type of legislation as “permitless carry.”
When asked if state Senate President Kathleen Passidomo would assist in the introduction of legislation allowing people to carry concealed loaded guns in public without a concealed carry permit, a spokesperson said, “Yes.”
“President Passidomo supports permitless carry legislation,” said Katy Betta, a spokesperson for the president.
Republican state House Speaker Paul Renner also stated that he intends to move such a bill through his chamber.
“The Florida House will work to expand constitutional rights that enable law-abiding citizens to defend themselves,” Renner said in a written response to NBC News’ questions.
Lawmakers had not yet pre-filed any such bills on Thursday, but Renner aides said at least one was on the way.
Last month, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis stated that the issue had emerged as a priority for him in 2023.
“This was something I’ve always supported,” DeSantis said in December to the Tampa Bay Times. “Over the last two years, it was not necessarily a priority for the legislative leadership. But we’ve been talking about it… and it’ll be done during the regular session.”
DeSantis, who is considering a presidential run in 2024, had promised to pass such legislation before leaving office.
A spokesperson for Renner suggested that the legislation would be similar to HB 103 from the 2022 session, which proposed “removing the requirement that a licence to carry a concealed firearm be required in order to carry such a firearm.”
Florida Republicans would be able to overcome any Democratic opposition and pass their preferred law because they won supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature in the November election.
A DeSantis spokesperson declined to comment on the timing and circumstances of any potential permitless carry bills in the upcoming legislative session.
Individuals who want to carry concealed weapons in public in Florida must first obtain a concealed weapons licence from the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The requirement is eliminated by “constitutional carry” and “permitless carry” laws. Openly carrying a weapon is illegal in Florida.
If and when such legislation is passed in the upcoming legislative session, Florida will become the 26th state to do so, continuing a national trend in which an increasing number of states allow the practise.
Virginia, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Nebraska are among the other states where lawmakers have introduced permitless carry legislation in the last two years, though those efforts have failed and face an uphill battle. Nebraska Republican legislators introduced a permitless carry bill this week that experts say has a better chance of passing this year, though it still faces challenges because Republicans lack a supermajority in the legislature.
Arizona, Iowa, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah enacted permitless carry laws in 2021, and Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, and Ohio did the same last year.
Florida, on the other hand, is one of only four solidly red states that still prohibit the practise (the others are North Carolina, South Carolina, and Louisiana).
The broader landscape has alarmed gun safety and gun control advocates, who claim that such bills would, either by design or by circumstance, circumvent existing laws requiring background checks and firearms training.
As part of their applications for concealed carry licences in Florida, for example, most gun owners must complete firearms training courses with state-certified instructors. Permitless carry laws do away with this requirement.
“There is data to prove that permitless carry causes harm,” said Shannon Watts, a board member at the gun violence prevention organisation Everytown for Gun Safety.
She cited numerous studies that show that states that have implemented permitless carry have seen increases in both gun violence and police shootings. They include a study conducted last year by Everytown that found that handgun homicide rates increased by 11% in states that relaxed gun-control laws. Furthermore, according to a study published last year by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, police shootings increased by 13% in 10 states that passed permitless carry laws between 2014 and 2020.
“The gun lobby says we don’t need new laws; we just need to enforce existing laws,” Allison Anderman, senior counsel and director of local policy at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said.
“Permitless carry has the opposite effect,” she adds. “It makes it impossible for us to enforce existing laws.”