Florida Legislators' Misplaced Priorities: No on Open Carry, Yes to Self-Defense Against Bears

AP Photo/Toby Talbot/File

Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo refuses to budge on her opposition to open carry, but that doesn't mean the Senate is completely void on pro-2A bills this session. Just a few days ago the Senate approved SB 632, which allows Floridians to shoot and kill black bears in self-defense. Now, I'm not opposed to this bill, though as someone who lives in black bear country in central Virginia I'm not convinced that black bear attacks are much of a problem. And despite concerns from opponents that the bill will result in a mass culling of the state's estimated 4,000 black bears, there are safeguards in the legislation to ensure that doesn't happen. 


It allows lethal force to kill a bear without a permit or authorization if the person "reasonably believed that his or her action was necessary to avoid an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to himself or herself or another, an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to a pet, or substantial damage to a dwelling .. "

Whoever kills a bear would not subject to any administrative, civil, or criminal penalties. They would have to notify the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission within 24 hours and still may not "possess, sell, or dispose" the dead bear or its parts, the legislative staff analysis of the bill says. FWC would have to dispose of the bear.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there've been 40 reported encounters between humans and black bears since 2016, most of which involved curious bears going after pets and their owners' attempts to intervene. That's not a huge number, but given that Florida law currently makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to kill a black bear during a closed season without any exception for acting in self-defense or to protect a pet and property, amending the current law isn't a bad thing. 

Still, I'm guessing if you polled Second Amendment activists in the Sunshine State, the vast majority would say that removing Florida's prohibition on open carry is a much bigger priority for them, along with House bills that would lower the age to purchase a rifle from 21 to 18 and allow for the transfer of lawfully purchased firearms after three days even if the background check has not been completed. But thanks to Passidomo's refusal to consider these issues, none of the House bills have Senate companions, and they're dead in the water this session, much to the frustration of 2A activists.


“You have a Republican House Speaker state that he and his Republican colleagues don’t have an ‘appetite’ to debate and vote on open carry. You have a Republican Senate President state that repealing the under-21 purchase ban is a ‘non-starter’ Yet both have the nerve to campaign that they’re pro-gun,” says Luis Valdes, Florida state director of Gun Owners of America (GOA).

Valdes and other Second Amendment aficionados are also steamed at DeSantis for failing to push for an open carry law which he said he supported a year ago. That measure (HB 1619) was introduced at the beginning of the 2024 session by Hillsborough GOP Rep. Mike Beltran but was immediately dismissed by Republican leadership last month.

“GOA got him on record where he said he ‘absolutely’ supports open carry,” Valdes says. “Well, actions speak louder than words and the governor’s inaction is deafening.”

I'm not sure that DeSantis has weighed in on the self-defense against bears bill, but he certainly hasn't brought up open carry in public this session, despite his previous support. 

Given the Republican majorities in both the House and Senate in Tallahassee, this is shaping up to be a disappointing session for gun owners thanks to the recalcitrance of GOP leaders. There are some major improvements to Florida's gun laws that will be left languishing in committee, and being able to bear arms against black bear attacks is small potatoes compared to the bills that aren't being heard this session. The only good news is that both Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner are term-limited and aren't running for reelection,. Both chambers will be electing new leadership next year, and that gives 2A activists a chance to ensure that the next Senate President and House Speaker don't just give lip service to protecting and strengthening our Second Amendment rights.  


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