The Florida House has passed a bill that would allow the public to carry concealed firearms while evacuating their home during an emergency.
Sponsor Rep. Heather Dawes Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, explained the bill extends carry-and-conceal privileges to those fleeing during a mandatory evacuation declared by the governor or local officials. Individuals, otherwise, must be in compliance with all laws, including having the right to be in possession of a firearm.
The bill (HB 209) was passed 80-36 on Friday. The Senate version (SB 296), sponsored by Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has to clear one more committee before being heard on the floor.
Opponents have voiced concerns with giving those privileges during a stressful time to people who haven't been properly trained. Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, argued fervently against the bill when it was placed on the calendar Wednesday and was an adamant opponent again Friday. He pointed to the 2010 state of emergency caused by the BP oil spill and asked if abusive spouses, noncitizens, drug abusers, gang members and sex offenders would fall under the umbrella of the legislation.
"This bill gives an exception to current law and does not specify those who should be excluded," McGee said. "Under this bill, our sheriffs will be outmanned and outgunned."
Fitzenhagen and others argue the issue is about lawfully protecting family and property during those times. Only those who can lawfully possess a firearm can take advantage of the legislation.
"During these unforeseen events, Floridians will be to get their families and property to a safe location without having to worry about violating the law," Fitzenhagen said.
The House also passed a bill that would allow the public to file for a carry and conceal permit and other firearm licenses with local tax collectors. The bill (HB 523) sponsored by Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, and Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, passed 94-22.