Florida open carry measure jumps first hurdle (VIDEO)

Florida open carry measure jumps first hurdle (VIDEO)

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, and Florida sheriffs were on hand this week making the case for open carry. (Photo: Kristen M. Clark/Miami Herald)

A bill to make the Sunshine State the 46th to grant the public open carry of firearms passed a House committee Tuesday with support of several sheriffs.

The proposal, introduced last month by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, won easy approval from the House Criminal Justice Committee in an 8-4 vote roughly along party lines.

On hand to support the measure was Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey and representatives of Wakulla County Sheriff Charlie Creel, who contend open carry can help discourage crime.

“It might be a drugstore, it might be a pizza delivery person, it might be a home invasion,” testified Ivey. “But rarely do we see where somebody goes in and robs a pawn shop. Rarely do we see where somebody goes in and robs a gun store, because they know what awaits them on the other side.”

Gaetz’s legislation, HB 163, would allow the state’s 1.4 million concealed carry permit holders to openly carry a firearm. Despite some of the most pro-gun laws in the country, Florida is but one of five states in the nation to prohibit the open carry of firearms altogether.

Opposition from state Democrats is palpable.

“If I was at a park with my daughter and I saw somebody openly carrying a weapon, I won’t know if that’s a good guy or a bad guy,” said John Whitley, a state committee member of Okaloosa County for the Florida Democratic Party. “I just think this is the opposite direction of where we should be going. We should be working on mental illness and gun control.”

Gatez, who has signed up more than 1,000 citizen co-sponsors to the legislation, also enjoys support from the sheriffs of Bradford and Pasco counties as well as from gun rights groups such as Florida Carry and the National Rifle Association.

“The growing list of Florida sheriffs who are speaking out in support of pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment legislation is gratifying and appreciated,” Marion Hammer, executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida and past president of the National Rifle Association, told Guns.com. “Their support of the constitutional rights of citizens who elected them makes their constituents much more comfortable with them.”

HB 163 has to pass two further committees and the full House to advance out of the body.

A companion measure, Sen. Don Gaetz’s SB 300, is working its way through the state Senate.