Florida House Speaker Says Open Carry Bill is 'Dead on Arrival'

(AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane)

The Florida legislature just kicked off the 2024 session a little more than a week ago, but House Speaker Paul Renner is already throwing cold water on the idea that the state might finally end its longtime prohibition on open carry.

During a recent press conference outlining some of the House priorities for the session, Renner was asked about HB 1619, a bill authored by Rep. Mike Beltran that would make a number of significant changes to Florida law. The bill would not only remove the state’s ban on open carry, but would make the state cover the cost of fingerprinting for concealed carry applicants, and perhaps most significantly, allow for concealed carry holders to lawfully carry on college and university campuses. Renner told the assembled reporters that he personally is in favor of the bill, but blamed objections by unnamed state senators as the reason he won’t be pursuing passage of the House bill.

“I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment across the board on many aspects. But we’re in the same legislature, same members we had last year, and there’s not an appetite in both chambers to get that done. I mean, I support it personally, but we always have to measure whether its worth the committee time, the House floor time, to pass a bill that would be controversial, that would take a lot of time, that we know is dead on arrival. And I respect, as the Senate president respects some areas that I mentioned in education where there are some red lines for me that I just can’t take. I’ll light myself on fire and so will many of the people behind me on some of things that really go to the core of accountability. And there are some senators who feel that way [about open carry] and I respect that. So we’ll have a respectful disagreement.”

Renner didn’t cite any senator by name, but Senate President Kathleen Passidomo has been vocally opposed to open carry in the recent past, though she’s couched her disapproval by claiming she’s only going along with the Florida Sheriffs Association. Renner may be right that HB 1619 would be dead on arrival in the Senate, but I know a lot of gun owners in the Sunshine State who would vociferously disagree with the Speaker when it comes to value of running the bill in the House regardless. If nothing else, House passage would put pressure on senators like Passidomo to get on board.

Renner’s professional relationship with his Senate counterpart and desire to have a congenial relationship shouldn’t trump his obligation to move bills through the House, and based on his comments it sounds to me like there’s enough support in the House to approve HB 1619. Why not let House members have an up or down vote on the bill and let the Senate decide its ultimate fate? Because Passidomo might do the same with some education bills? So what?

The purpose of these legislative sessions isn’t to see that they run as smoothly as possible, no matter how desirable that might be for House and Senate leadership. We’re supposed to have debates on important issues, and the right to keep and bear arms is hugely important to many Floridians. Keeping HB 1619 bottled up in committee this session may make Renner’s job a little easier, but it does so at the expense of Florida gun owners and Second Amendment advocates.

The deadline for filing new legislation has already come and gone, so HB 1619’s sponsor can’t even break out the individual components of the legislation into separate bills. Thanks to Passidomo’s opposition and Renner’s desire to maintain cordial relations with his Senate counterparts, Florida will remain one of the few states to forbid open carry in most circumstances; alongside anti-2A bastions like California, New York, and Illinois.

I confess that I don’t understand why open carry is so staunchly opposed by Passidomo and other folks like Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. It’s the law of the land in 47 states, including where I live in Virginia, and it’s really a non-issue. If law enforcement in the vast majority of states are capable of doing their job though open carry is allowed, I’m at a loss as to why sheriffs like Gaultieri or politicians like Passidomo believe cops in Florida would be unable to do so.

The silver lining for gun owners is that Passidomo is term-limited and ineligible to run for re-election this year, which gives Second Amendment advocates a shot at ensuring that the next Senate president is open to allowing committee votes and floor debate on bills regardless of their own personal support or opposition. For this session, however, open carry isn’t dead on arrival. It’s simply off the table, because Renner’s decided it’s not worth the time and energy to run the bill and let the chips fall where they may.