DeSantis makes strongest statement yet on Constitutional Carry

AP Photo/John Raoux

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has offered his support for Constitutional Carry legislation on several occasions over the past few months, most recently in March, when he said that if lawmakers deliver a bill to his desk he would sign it. The measure wasn’t a part of the most recent special legislative session in Tallahassee, however, and a Constitutional Carry bill introduced in the state House failed to get a hearing during the regular session, leaving the future of the legislation in limbo for now.

On Friday, howver, DeSantis once again encouraged lawmakers to approve permitless carry while taking advantage of the opportunity to use the issue to chide one of his potential rivals for his job.

DeSantis said he wants to follow the lead of other states that have passed similar laws.

Under current law, people who want to carry a gun must get a concealed weapon permit from the state.

He addressed what he called the lack of permits issued by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The head of that department is Nikki Fried, who is running as a Democrat for governor this year.

“You have a situation where the official in charge of these permits doesn’t support Second Amendment rights. So why would you want to sub-contract out your constitutional rights to a public official that rejects the very existence of those rights?”

Fried has been in the news lately after she filed suit against the Biden administration seeking to overturn the current federal prohibitions on cannabis users and gun ownership, but the Democrat has also had her share of headlines for her pro-gun control positions that taken since becoming Agriculture Secretary in 2018. And Fried’s response to DeSantis wasn’t to try to play up whatever Second Amendment street cred she thinks she’s accumulated over the past four years. Instead she channeled her inner Shannon Watts, accusing DeSantis of “absurd political pandering” and declaring that what the state really needs are more gun control laws and bills to make housing more affordable (yeah, no pandering there).

Even though we’ve seen Constitutional Carry become a big issue in the Georgia gubernatorial primary between incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp and challenger David Perdue, it sounds like DeSantis may want to push a floor fight over Constitutional Carry to next year, while laying the groundwork for the campaign now.

DeSantis did not give a timetable but said it would be done before his term as governor ends.

“The legislature will get it done,” DeSantis said. “I can’t tell you if it’s going to be next week, six months, but I can tell you that before I am done as governor, we will have a signature on that bill.”

Presumably DeSantis believes that he’ll be governor until at least early 2025, when the winner of the 2024 presidential election will be inaugurated. And if DeSantis doesn’t run, his self-imposed deadline could extend out to 2026. I don’t think it will take that long, however. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if DeSantis made it one of his top priorities in the 2023 legislative session.

We’ve seen almost a dozen states adopt Constitutional Carry in the past two years, and most of the states that are low-hanging fruit have now put permitless carry laws on the books. Next year, however, Florida could be one of just a handful of states with a realistic opportunity to enshrine the measure into law, and I can’t help but wonder if DeSantis is willing to wait until next year for this fight as opposed to trying to ram it through now when he’s already getting a glut of media attention over his fight with Disney.

DeSantis has said that it’s up to the legislature to “get it done,” but the governor has the power and ability to decide what issues will be brought forward during a special session, and so far Constitutional Carry hasn’t made the governor’s short list. I do believe DeSantis when he says that Constitutional Carry will be signed into law before he leaves office, but I think the timing also depends on DeSantis’ political plans for the future, and he may very well have decided that the maximum political benefit to sign Constitutional Carry would come as a prelude or a kickoff to a presidential campaign in early 2023, as opposed to an exclamation point on his first term as governor.

That doesn’t mean that DeSantis will be silent on the issue between now and then. He can still use it to demonstrate the difference between himself and his Democratic gubernatorial opponent this year but that doesn’t mean he has to actually sign a bill before Election Day in November. I’d be surprised if it happened that quickly, to be honest, but I’d be just as shocked if DeSantis doesn’t put pen to paper and make Florida a permitless carry state within the next 12 months.