Under current law in Florida, pastors and those in charge of houses of worship can permit the lawful carrying of a concealed firearm inside church buildings, with one notable exception. If the church has a school attached to it (as some churches do), then concealed carry is absolutely forbidden, even on Sundays when school isn’t in session.
It’s a weird quirk of the law, but hopefully it’s going to be addressed this year, and the prospects for change look pretty good after the state House gave its overwhelming approval to the measure by a vote of 76-37 on Friday.
This legislation originated in the Education and Employment Committee and is sponsored by Representatives Jayer Williamson and Cord Byrd. It’s not the first time such legislation has come up, but it is the first time the bill cleared the full House.
Williamson has been describing the bill, supported by the National Rifle Association, as “private property rights reform” and a bill to “fix a glitch” in private property law, maintaining not an expansion of gun rights.
“While it will always be painted as a gun rights bill, this is a private property rights issue,” Williamson said.
I think it can be both a Second Amendment bill and a private property rights issue, but Williamson is right that the Democrats in the Florida House who opposed the measure did so using anti-gun, not anti-property rights, rhetoric.
Navy veteran Rep. Andrew Learned, a Democrat, voted in favor of the new bill in its first committee, but stopped supporting the legislation after he determined the statute changes would put guns in schools when they are on church grounds.
“We have three different interpretations over the two committees that followed, about the guns in classrooms piece. And I’ve carried an M-4 rifle in combat. I’ve fired an M-4 combat rifle. I used to carry in a nine-millimeter pistol, and I’ve seen what these weapons can do,” Learned said. “And this is why I am so dead set against putting guns in kid’s classrooms. This is not a hard thing for me. This isn’t about property rights. Everybody supports those portions of this bill. There were plenty of good amendments that would have worked through the process that could have made this so that we could have supported it. But if we’re drawing the line, and if the stated purpose of this is to put guns in classrooms, I’m a hard no. And I always will be.”
What Learned is actually saying (whether he realizes it or not) is that he thinks its fine for parishioners to be armed in the sanctuary for the protection of churchgoers, but he doesn’t believe that churches should be able to set their own security policies in a Sunday School classroom.
Again, the law wouldn’t mandate that concealed carry holders can carry in churches with schools attached. It simply allows the leaders of those churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship to set their own policies. It is a property rights issue, as well as a Second Amendment issue (and I’d argue a First Amendment issue as well). The state shouldn’t have the power to tell private property owners, including religious institutions, that their properties must be gun-free zones, and the House made the right call in passing HB 259.
The Senate version of this legislation is in its final committee before heading to the floor for a vote, so at the moment the odds look pretty good that the quirk in Florida law can finally be fixed; enhancing both the Second Amendment and private property rights of Floridians.