"The bells of liberty are surely ringing throughout Florida
today," said Representative Heather Dawes Fitzenhagen, a Fort Myers
Republican who sponsored the bill lifting permit requirements for
concealed weapons in an emergency declared by the governor or local
"By passing this bill, you will ensure that no Floridian, in lawful
possession of a firearm, must leave it behind."
The House voted 80-36 to send the bill (HB 209) to the state Senate,
where a companion bill is ready for a floor vote that would put the
measure on Governor Rick Scott's desk later this month.
The Republican-run legislature has been undeterred by nationwide
controversy over Florida's gun laws. The House defeated an effort to
repeal the state's "stand your ground" self-defense law in committee
prior to the session, and last week sent the governor a bill that
would allow citizens to brandish weapons or fire "warning shots" to
fend off an attack.
Florida has some of the most lenient gun laws in the United States
and state records show that about 8 percent of adults are licensed
to carry a concealed weapon.
The Florida Sheriffs Association and some other law-enforcement
lobbyists opposed the bill, which had the backing of the National
"We don't want to kill the bill, we want to clarify it," said Duval
County Sheriff John Rutherford, arguing that it does not spell out
what constitutes an evacuation. "Does it mean when you're moving
out, when you check into your hotel?"
Representative Victor Torres, an Orlando Democrat and retired New
York City transit policeman, said guns in hurricane shelters could
be dangerous for people already under stress.
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"They will face a different reality. You are talking about
introducing concealed firearms into an environment that is already
teeming with tension," he said. "I hope that tragedy will not be a
byproduct of our decision here today."
Fitzenhagen said her bill would not allow convicted felons, on
anyone else legally forbidden to own a gun, to carry weapons during
an evacuation. The bill also applies to non-lethal stun guns, pepper
spray and other defensive implements.
Representative Neil Combee, a Republican, told of volunteering to
help two days after Hurricane Andrew devastated south Florida in
1992. He said citizens in a chaotic situation should be allowed to
keep weapons for self defense, properly secured in their vehicles or
"When the power lines are down, communication lines are down, your
home has been damaged or destroyed, and you need to get out in a
hurry, the last thing you need to worry about is being charged with
a crime because you're taking maybe one of your most valuable
possessions with you," said Combee.
(Editing by David Adams and Gunna Dickson)
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