A bill expanding the right to carry into religious institutions that have schools attached to their physical location cleared a key Senate committee in Florida on Monday along a party line vote. SB 498 is known by supporters as the “Safety of Religious Institutions” bill, while detractors have labeled it the “Bibles and Bullets” bill.
Sen. Joe Gruters, a Republican from Sarasota, is the author of the legislation this session. A similar bill was introduced last year but failed to make it to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature.
This year’s measure waives it for campuses where a school is attached to a house of worship or on the same property. He framed the prohibition as at odds with constitutional rights.
“To me, it’s about the First Amendment. It’s about private property rights. It’s about religion and people’s ability to defend and protect their church,” Gruters said after representatives of the Florida League of Women Voters, the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, and Florida NOW had spoken against the bill.
For gun control activists, the bill isn’t about religion, property rights, or self-defense. It’s just about guns, which is all the reason they need to object.
Trish Neely of the League of Women Voters said there are better ways to solve security problems than letting guns near children.
“Smart people can craft smart solutions without permitting more guns,” she said.
That argument drew the attention of some on the Judiciary Committee.
“Guns are too dangerous to accidentally go off— or on purpose,” said Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat. “I certainly don’t believe guns create more safety. They create more chaos, more violence.”
So much for personal choice. Keep in mind, Gruter’s bill wouldn’t require that churches, synagogues, or mosques allow legal gun owners to carry on the premises. It simply allows those institutions to permit the carrying of firearms in those buildings that also house private schools if they choose. Florida law already allows those religious organizations to permit lawful carrying in buildings without attached schools, so this is a fairly minor expansion of the right to carry.
Even this minor tweak is too much for anti-gun activists and politicians, who are intent on restricting the right to carry and view any expansion as a step in the wrong direction. Sen. Polsky, the Boca Raton Democrat, complained during the hearing that the “crux of this is the idea (that) a good guy with a gun is the answer to gun violence and I just couldn’t disagree more with that.”
Gruters told the committee that a “good guy with a gun” can in fact make a difference, referring to a 2019 shooting at a church service in White Settlement, Texas.
Jack Wilson, a firearms instructor who trained a volunteer security team at the West Freeway Church of Christ, shot Keith Thomas Kinnunen during a Dec. 29 service after Kinnunen shot and killed 67-year-old Richard White, another security volunteer, and 64-year-old Anton “Tony” Wallace, a server.
“That good guy that probably saved hundreds of lives,” Gruters said.
Gruters is spot-on in his assessment, but gun control groups are mobilizing their opposition. Polsky says she received 1,000 emails urging her to vote against the bill, so gun owners in Florida need to be in contact with their state senators to urge them to support SB 498. The bill’s next stop is the Criminal Justice Committee, which is where last year’s legislation died. If Second Amendment supporters are going to get this bill to Gov. DeSantis’ desk, they need to be speaking up now in defense of the legislation.
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