Florida inched one step closer to becoming the 46th state in the country to allow concealed weapons permit holders to openly carry their firearms in public after the House passed a bill supporting the measure by a vote of 80-38.
The bill, HB 163, sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, would make it legal for anyone with a concealed weapons permit to openly carry their firearm in public. Current Florida law does not allow CCW permit holders to openly carry.
Anyone who willfully infringes on concealed weapons permit holders’ right to openly carry (like law enforcement officers) would face a $5,000 fine. Government entities who try to infringe upon the open carry rule could face an even higher penalty of $100,000 for infringing on CCW permit holders’ right to carry.
Gaetz’s legislation has been one of the hottest bills to move through the Florida Legislature during this year’s legislative session, with many members disagreeing on whether the proposal would be a good idea for the people of Florida.
Those opposed to the law say it’s a bad idea for Florida since the state relies so heavily on tourism to boost its economy. Some law enforcement groups and city mayors around the state have already voiced similar concerns over the legislation, saying it would make law enforcement officers' jobs more difficult and would be bad for some of the state’s thriving areas like the Tampa Bay region.
Some state lawmakers agreed.
“It's bad for tourism...because [of] public safety,” said Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg. “People don't feel very comfortable when everyone's toting guns.”
Others said openly carrying a firearm wasn’t a “God-given” right.
"Let's stop acting like guns is the solution to reducing crimes and protecting our citizens,” said Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa. "None of us was born with a 40 caliber attached to our umbilical cord."
But Republicans said being allowed to openly carry firearms was a constitutional right which should be granted to law-abiding Floridians who have open carry permits.
"This bill is so much more than [open carry],” said Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven. “[It's] about protecting our citizens from our government."
"Stop impeding on the constitutional right of the people,” said Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gaetz, also refuted claims that legalizing open carry would lead to more gun violence in Florida.
“People are shooting less in states that allow open carry,” Gaetz explained, pointing to other states where open carry is legal.
It's currently legal for gun owners to carry handguns openly in 30 states without a license or permit, while 15 states require a license to carry openly. If the Florida Legislature approves the measure, Florida would become the 46th state to allow open carry.
The bill’s Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, is likely to move forward in that chamber.