Full speed ahead on Florida emergency concealed carry legislation

Bills to allow law-abiding citizens without concealed carry permits to bear arms during declared mandatory evacuations are now being supported by a group that effectively blocked similar legislation last year.

The measure is essentially a reboot of a bill introduced in 2014 that was killed by last minute amendments after dramatic politics in the state legislature. The Florida Sheriff’s Association opposed the legislation in large part at the time and championed the amendments.

Now, versions of the bill in both the state Senate and House passed out of committee Wednesday in near unanimous votes — this time garnering the support of the FSA.

“Yes, we support this current bill,” Nanette Schimpf, with the Association told Guns.com via email Thursday. “Basically, poor language from last year’s bill has been addressed with recent amendment.”

The amendment referred to by Schimpf was explained in detail by Marion Hammer, founder of Unified Sportsmen of Florida and the National Rifle Association’s lobbyist in Florida.

“Both bills this year are identical to the bill we passed overwhelmingly out of the House last year,” Hammer advised Guns.com. “The only change is the addition of a 48 hour time frame for evacuating — which is clearly reasonable and adequate. Additionally included is clarification that evacuation means ‘leave.’ Unbelievably, some folks last year tried to claim a person could grab a gun and run to an evacuation area.”

The companion bills, SB-290 and HB-493, would allow a person to carry a concealed firearm, as long as they are able to lawfully possess that firearm, even without a permit to do so during a mandatory evacuation order during a declared state of emergency. The period that carry would be allowed is limited to 48 hours but could be extended by the governor for an additional time if needed on a situational basis.

Such evacuation orders occur frequently in the state, most often associated with hurricane threats. Florida, with hundreds of miles of coastline in the North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, is prone to severe hurricanes. Since 2000, no less than 63 tropical or subtropical cyclones have affected Florida, more than any other state.

The Florida Sheriffs Association, who lobbied to limit the circumstances under which an evacuee could carry concealed without a permit, and how long the exception would be allowed, opposed the previous measure. The 2014 bill was withdrawn after lawmakers attached a limit on the period of 24-hours or whenever an evacuee reached their destination, whichever came first.

Hammer had warm words for the interaction between gun rights advocates and the sheriff’s group in Tallahassee this session.

“The big difference this year is that we worked directly with sheriffs to reach agreements rather than through Florida Sheriffs Association lobbyists. It was much more productive,” said Hammer.