With hurricane season approaching, lawmakers in the Sunshine State are within striking distance of approving a measure to allow law-abiding citizens without concealed carry permits to bear arms during declared mandatory evacuations.
The proposal is essentially a reboot of a bill introduced in 2014 that was killed by last minute amendments after dramatic politics in the state legislature. However, this session’s version, now with the support of law enforcement groups that blockaded the previous one, is now set for approval in the state senate.
“We do not want people who are fleeing their homes in an emergency to be considered a third degree felon because of a technical violation,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, sponsor of the measure.
Brandes’s legislation, SB-290, would allow a person to carry a concealed firearm, as long as they are able to lawfully possess that firearm, even without a permit to do so during a mandatory evacuation order during a declared state of emergency. The period that carry would be allowed is limited to 48 hours but could be extended by the governor for an additional time if needed on a situational basis.
Such evacuation orders occur frequently in the state, most often associated with hurricane threats. Florida, with hundreds of miles of coastline in the North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, is prone to severe hurricanes. Since 2000, no less than 63 tropical or subtropical cyclones have affected Florida, more than any other state.
Not all are in favor of the bill, which is seeing pushback from those on the other side of the aisle.
“I envision a hurricane where there are down power lines, there’s no telephone service. People are concerned about water safety and at the same time you have people on the street with guns,” said Sen. Geri Thompson, D-Orange County. Thompson’s party holds just 14 of 40 seats in the Florida Senate.
Notably among those not opposing the evacuation carry bill is the Florida Sheriff’s Association, who had voiced concerns over last year’s bill over accountability issues but is embracing the current version along with gun rights advocates.
“What could be more fundamental than exercising your Second Amendment right in a time of emergency?” Marion Hammer, president of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida and past president of the National Rifle Association, told Guns.com Thursday. “If you can’t carry your firearms to protect your family in an emergency, then your constitutional rights of self-defense and to keep and bear arms are meaningless.”
Florida Senate Bill 290 is expected to see a full floor vote as early as next week.
If successful, it would transmit to the state House where Republicans hold an impressive 80-39 majority where approval would place it on the desk of Gov. Rick Scott who has a record-setting history of signing pro-gun legislation.