Our founders knew that it was a natural human right to own and use firearms for self-preservation and included the Second Amendment to the Constitution to protect that right. Whether you live in Miami or Pensacola, citizens should always have the right to protect themselves and their families. Law enforcement does a great job protecting citizens but there are times where people can be in imminent danger and cannot wait for law enforcement to be there in what could be a matter of seconds before someone could face death from an armed criminal.
In the last session, state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, filed several bills dealing with “gun free zones.” We have painfully learned recently that “gun free zones” are just an open invitation to criminals that know law abiding citizens are unable to defend themselves. Steube’s bills would have repealed certain statutes that prohibited concealed weapon permit holders from carrying a firearm on college campuses and airport terminals among others.
In the Senate, all gun related legislation must go through the Judiciary Committee which is chaired by Steube. The Judiciary Committee is made up of six Republicans and four Democrats. We know pro-gun rights legislation usually follow party lines with Republicans supporting gun rights and Democrats consistently vote against gun rights. In the last session held earlier this year, two Republican senators broke ranks in the Judiciary Committee and voted to kill any legislation to protect our right to self-protection. Miami Republicans Sens. Renee Garcia and Anitere Flores not only said no, they said hell no! Without support from the two Miami Republicans, the gun bills were dead.
Fast forward to today. Steube again filed bills to protect our gun rights along with Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. SB 274 from Stargel would have allowed a concealed weapon permit holder to carry a concealed firearm on school property if a religious institution is located on the property. Currently, firearms are allowed in church if the chapel is not on a school campus. A legal concealed weapon permit holder faces a felony if they carry to a house of worship on the same grounds as a school.
After the tragic shooting in Texas, it seems like this legislation would make sense. Most churches cannot afford to hire armed security, so allowing a parishioner with a concealed weapon permit would allow them to have protection. Steube’s SB 134 would have allowed concealed weapon permit-holders to carry a firearm in to courthouses and temporarily surrender and store the gun at a security checkpoint. Currently, concealed weapon permit holders must leave their firearms at home or store them in cars and be unarmed for a period outside the courthouse. Another bill--SB 148--from Steube would have reduced penalties for the first or second violation for people who have concealed-weapon licenses and openly carry. Also, SB 148 would have provided that a person licensed to carry a concealed weapon or firearm would not violate certain provisions if the firearm is temporarily and openly displayed.
This past Tuesday, in the Senate Judiciary committee, Garcia and Flores repeated their total disregard of gun rights and voted no to these bills to allow people the right to protect themselves though Garcia voted yes on SB 148 after voting no on SB 274 and SB 134. To his credit, Garcia explained his concerns and why he could not vote for SB 274 and SB 134. What was far more disappointing was Flores sitting quietly through the Judiciary Committee, voting no and offering no reasons for her votes and presenting no alternatives.
So, for the second session in a row, we will not have any real legislation to protect our right to self-defense. Can we blame the Democrats? Not really. Republicans Garcia and Flores have shown they have no interest in protecting people’s rights of self-protection and the blame for the failure to pass gun-rights legislation sits squarely on their shoulders.
Alexander Snitker is president of the Liberty First Network. He was the Libertarian Party’s U.S. Senate nominee in 2010.