“The bells of liberty are surely ringing throughout Florida today.” said state Rep. Heather Dawes Fitzenhagen (R). The cause of Fitzenhagen’s delight is a bill that would allow people with no criminal record to carry a concealed weapon without a permit in crisis or evacuation scenarios. Her bill, which applies to natural disaster scenarios such as hurricanes or forest fires and emergencies declared by the governor or local authorities, passed the state House of Representatives by a 80-36 margin.
Other lawmakers are not quite so excited about this bill. Democratic Rep. Victor Torres, a retired New York City transit police officer, opposed the bill noting that guns in places like storm shelters could be dangerous and increase tension in an already stressful scenario — “[y]ou are talking about introducing concealed firearms into an environment that is already teeming with tension. I hope that tragedy will not be a byproduct of our decision here today.” The bill’s opponents also noted that it would be difficult to check whether a particular individual has a criminal record in an emergency situation such as a hurricane when many technological databases would be unavailable, and that firearms could be used in robberies or other crimes at a time when looting is widespread.
While the bill received support from the National Rifle Association, several law-enforcement lobbyists, most notably the Florida Sheriffs Association, opposed the bill. When asked about their opposition, Duval County Sheriff John Rutherford offered “We don’t want to kill the bill, we want to clarify it. Does it mean when you’re moving out, when you check into your hotel?”