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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Editorial: Gun law poses a dangerous gamble

Many of the misguided laws proposed each year in Tallahassee affect narrow interests and are fairly harmless to the general population. But proposals in the House and Senate this year to allow untrained gun owners to carry concealed weapons during emergencies are downright dangerous.

That didn’t stop the House from passing such a measure last week mostly along partisan lines, with Republicans in favor. It’s now up to the Senate to wriggle free of the National Rifle Association’s grip and vote against this bad idea.

Approving it will allow people without the state’s required firearms training to carry concealed weapons during natural disasters and other crises, periods when the public’s nerves are frayed and tempers are short.

The bills create an exemption to the state’s concealed firearms law during government-mandated evacuations. Supporters say they will allow all gun owners without a concealed weapons permit to grab their weapons and head out the door without facing arrest.

But state law already allows for guns to be transported, provided they are securely encased or stowed, such as in a vehicle’s trunk, a glove box, or even in a bag or a box.

And opponents that include the Florida Sheriffs Association say the law is vague, failing to specify the number of days a person might be allowed to carry the concealed weapon after an evacuation order, and failing to define the geographical area an evacuee might travel and still lawfully pack a concealed firearm.

The House measure allows for unlicensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons during local emergencies, such as riots. “It’s insane,” says Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. He thinks the concealed carry exemption is unnecessary, but if lawmakers insist on passing a law they should limit the types of emergencies when the exemption applies and define the duration and distance gun owners can still be covered by the exemption. Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee agrees the law needs clarification, and he also wonders why it’s needed.

Roughly 1.2 million people have concealed weapons permits in the state, while the number of Florida gun owners is estimated by the NRA to be around 8 million. Obtaining a concealed permit occurs only after a person can produce a certificate showing they have undergone firearms training, or have military or law enforcement training.

Passing this law would render that sensible requirement meaningless.

Rep. Kathleen Peters, a Republican from South Pasadena and sponsor of the House bill, and Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg and sponsor of the Senate bill, are appeasing the NRA with these bills rather than serving the public. And that’s a shame. Republicans historically have been supportive of law enforcement. But this unnecessary legislation makes it clear who some lawmakers are more eager to please.

Carrying a concealed weapon is a privilege to be earned, not a right to be recklessly bestowed on everyone whenever an emergency strikes.

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