After two failed attempts, a contentious gun bill backed by the National Rifle Association cleared Florida’s Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee on Tuesday with a 5-4 vote.
Sponsored by state Sen. Jeffrey Brandes (R), SB 296 would allow legal gun owners without concealed weapons licenses to carry a concealed weapon or firearm when complying with a mandatory evacuation order issued during a declared state of emergency.
“When citizens are evacuating under a mandatory order and they grab whatever they can, I believe they have enough to worry about without having to cross-check themselves to be certain they’re in technical compliance with concealed weapon transport laws," Brandes told The Huffington Post in March. “This legislation reaffirms that Floridians who can lawfully own a weapon are able to possess that weapon to protect themselves and their families in the chaos of a disaster, when law enforcement may be overwhelmed and unavailable to immediately come to their assistance.”
Under current Florida law, residents who legally own a firearm are already permitted to transport the contents of a family gun cabinet by car or public transit during an evacuation order if the weapon is "securely encased."
Opponents of SB 296, including the Florida Sheriffs Association, have criticized the measure for its potential safety loopholes.
Electra Bustle, a FSA lobbyist, told the committee the bill fails to address when concealed carry laws would be waived and later reinstated.
“It does not place any restrictions on where a person without a permit can carry their weapon,” Bustle said, according to the Naples Daily News. “What if you stay in your home? Does this mean you can carry a concealed (weapon) around town?”
Eric Friday, an attorney with gun-rights group Florida Carry, dismissed the Florida Sheriffs Association’s concerns.
“The Florida Sheriffs Association always comes forward with a parade of horribles that there will be blood in the streets and shootouts on every corner,” Friday said on Tuesday. “That never happens.”
Upon Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) request, the Florida National Guard has also come out in support of the legislation, although a National Guard attorney initially criticized the proposal during the committee’s first hearing.
The measure has one remaining committee hearing before reaching the Senate floor. The House version, HB 209, awaits a full floor vote.
The state-of-emergency bills are two of 10 pro-gun measures passed out of Florida legislative committees in the last several weeks, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune's gun blogger, Lee Williams.
Janie Campbell contributed to this report.