Florida House permitless carry bill clears second reading... without open carry amendment

Seth Perlman

Floridians who can lawfully possess a firearm are one step closer to being able to carry it in some fashion without first obtaining a government-issued permission slip after the Florida House sent HB 543 to third reading on Thursday afternoon, with a final vote on the bill expected as early as Friday.

Under the terms of the legislation, those who meet the qualifications for a concealed carry license could carry a concealed firearm without the need to acquire the license, but complaints by many Second Amendment activists that the bill doesn’t go far enough because it does not include the ability to openly carry a firearm as well fell on deaf ears as lawmakers approved the bill without amending it to meet their demands.

In fact, while there were 17 amendments to HB 543 that were formally proposed and voted on (most of them coming from Democrats opposed to the idea of permitless carry in general), no open carry proposal was offered on the House floor. Rep. Mike Beltran had filed an amendment with the House on Tuesday afternoon, but withdrew the amendment about 24 hours later.

“I think it’s good policy, but this wasn’t the right vehicle or the right time,” Beltran told the Phoenix. “I think that we can try to lock in permitless and then where we can get this another time.”

House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo told reporters in Tallahassee two weeks ago that the permitless carry bill was fine just as it was crafted, without the open carry provision.

And Passidomo was even more direct in saying that she opposed the open carry provision, in part because the Florida Sheriffs Association didn’t support the measure.

Luis Valdes, the state director of Gun Owners of America, told the Phoenix that he was disappointed that the open carry amendment, which his organization has been advocating for, will no longer be considered.

“It comes down to legislative leadership,” Valdes said.

It’s silly to say that permitless carry legislation wasn’t the “right vehicle” to repeal the state’s current ban on openly-carried firearms, and I’d say there’s no time like the present to strengthen the Second Amendment rights of responsible Floridians as much as possible, but with Passidomo’s objections to open carry then it may not have been possible to get open carry across the finish line and on Ron DeSantis’s desk.

I won’t pretend to understand the legislature’s unwillingness to bring Florida in line with the 47 other states that already allow for open carry in some form or fashion, but whatever their reason its clear that legislative leadership drew a line in the sand on including the issue in both the House and Senate versions of permitless carry legislation. But I don’t think think this just comes down to legislative leadership. Gov. DeSantis wields an incredible amount of clout with lawmakers, but largely deferred to the legislature on this particular issue; repeatedly stating his own support for including open carry language but doubting lawmakers would go along. DeSantis never really criticized those opponents of open carry, and I think it’s fair to say that he didn’t apply any real public pressure for them to fall in line.

While I find the staunch opposition to open carry inexplicable, I understand all too well the political calculations that led to the absence of open carry this year. Politicians in both parties tend to take an incremental approach to gun legislation, whether its grandfathering in currently-owned “assault weapons” or “large capacity” magazines only to come back and later demand those gun owners hand them over or getting rid of “gun-free zones” one sensitive place at a time. And even in states where Republicans have complete control of state government, gun owners and Second Amendment advocates can find themselves at odds with the Chamber-of-Commerce wing of the GOP. Oklahoma, for example, has failed to pass campus carry legislation despite having veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate along with a Republican governor, even as neighboring states like Texas and Kansas have implemented their own campus carry laws.

In the Sooner State it’s been the higher ed lobby and the business community have successfully stymied campus carry efforts, but in Florida it sounds like the tourism industry and law enforcement are the stakeholders who’ve managed to convince Republicans to hold off, at least for now. Anti-gun activists targeted the tourism industry with a campaign pledging to stay away if open carry became law, and while many law enforcement groups are backing HB 543 in its current form, Passidomo has said the Florida Sheriffs Association is opposed to repealing the state’s prohibition on openly-carried firearms.

As someone who lives in a state where it’s legal to openly carry a firearm without the need for a license I can tell any Floridians who are reluctant to change the status quo that they’re afraid of a non-issue. If we possess the right to bear arms, then why should it be a criminal offense to openly exercise that right instead of keeping it under wraps? Yes, the vast majority of peaceable gun owners choose to carry concealed when given the choice, but that doesn’t mean it should be a crime to bear arms openly in self-defense. Maybe we need to start a campaign of our own to educate tourism officials and law enforcement of what the open carry laws look like in practice, as opposed to the fearmongering fantasies of the gun prohibitionists. It might be time to start looking for a primary opponent for open carry opponents like Kathleen Passidomo as well.

As much as I’d love to see open carry become legal in Florida, and as frustrating as it is to watch the legislative sausage being made at the expense of a fundamental right, HB 543 and its companion in the Senate are still a step forward for gun owners in the state. It’s just not as big a step as we’d expect from the “Gunshine State.” It’ll be a great day when Florida becomes the 26th state to adopt permitless carry, but it would be even better if it became the 48th state to allow for open carry at the same time.