- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Florida lawmakers are pushing legislation that would let citizens carry a concealed gun without having to get a government-issued permit.

The move would allow for permitless carry in most states.

Republican state House Speaker Paul Renner is captaining the effort with support from GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, who last month urged lawmakers to get it done.

Under the Florida bill, qualified people could carry a concealed weapon without seeking a permit and paying related fees, although they must follow laws prohibiting weapons in places like schools, athletic events and jails.

“Floridians shouldn’t need a government permission slip to exercise their constitutional rights,” Mr. Renner said.

People could still seek a permit if they wanted to, and those prohibited from owning a weapon would still be barred.

Mr. DeSantis is considered a likely 2024 presidential contender, so his support and the political calendar should grease the skids for passage this year. A number of sheriffs joined bill sponsors this week in unveiling the Florida bill, which clashes with blue state efforts and President Biden’s calls to tight gun laws.

A tide of red and purple states have passed laws allowing for permitless carry over the past decade. Only a handful of such laws predate 2015, while Vermont has never enacted a law banning the right to discreetly bear arms, according to the National Rifle Association-Institute for Legislative Action.

The NRA-ILA said Florida is in competition with Nebraska to become the 26th constitutional-carry state.

“Half of the country currently recognizes the fundamental right of law-abiding gun owners to carry a firearm for self-defense as enshrined in our Constitution,” said Art Thomm, the NRA state director for Florida. “The NRA is proud to have led this effort across America and looks forward to welcoming Florida into the fold of freedom that constitutional carry provides.”

An NRA-ILA fact sheet says permitless carry laws give criminals “a reason to fear that any potential victim could be armed and disincentivizes criminal conduct.”

If successful, the bill would further fragment the landscape of gun laws in the U.S.

A number of liberal states are tightening or overhauling gun restrictions in the wake of mass shootings and a Supreme Court decision that said Democrat-led places like New York placed too many restrictions on concealed carry.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, called a special session last year so the legislature could create new “sensitive places,” such as churches, where concealed carry would not be allowed. Gun rights advocates sued, saying the new law defied the Supreme Court’s wishes.

In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed a bill that bans so-called assault weapons in the state and caps the purchase of magazines at 10 rounds for long guns and 15 for handguns. Certain rapid-fire devices that can turn weapons into fully automatic firearms were also banned.

People who already own the prohibited weapons were allowed to keep them but must register them under the bill, which followed a mass shooting last year at a July 4 parade in Highland Park, Illinois.

The balkanization of gun laws can pose difficulties for people transporting firearms but traversing through a restrictive state.

For instance, those who try to travel from one place to another while following federal rules on the transport of firearms have been tripped up by local laws at airport hubs in liberal states, according to Warren Eller, chairman of the Department of Public Management at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

He said a person traveling to Vermont, which has relatively permissive gun laws, might get in trouble if he or she leaves the federal highway system in New York to fuel up and gets caught with a weapon.

“It’s always been very problematic. It’s been something that is tough to navigate,” Mr. Eller said.

Like in New York, the Illinois overhaul has sparked a number of lawsuits from groups who say the restrictions violate the Second Amendment.

During a press conference Monday, sheriffs who joined bill sponsors in Florida underlined constitutional rights for law-abiding owners.

“Our Constitution protects gun ownership rights and the ability to carry a firearm. Violent career criminals are not applying for a gun state permit to carry a gun,” said Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis.

Democrats in Tallahassee blasted the new GOP effort, saying it would put guns in the hands of inexperienced people.

“This is not constitutional carry. This is untrained carry,” state Rep. Christine Hunschofsky of Parkland, site of a 2018 school shooting that killed 17, told the Orlando Sentinel. “Untrained carry does not make our communities safer.”

She said the state should focus on things like universal background checks and safe storage of guns.

Efforts to increase the number of places that don’t require a government permit can remove a key tool for law enforcement in some instances, according to Mr. Eller.

For example, some states tie the concealed-carry permit system to driver’s license records, which provide valuable information to officers conducting a stop.

“They know if you have a concealed carry permit, so they know there might be a firearm on the scene when they walk up to your vehicle. Being foretold is being forewarned,” Mr. Eller said. “They’re not going to be surprised if there happens to be a gun in your glovebox.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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