Amid Vegas Shooting, Florida GOP Lawmakers Want to Weaken Concealed-Carry Laws

Gun-lovin' state senator from Sarasota Greg Steube.EXPAND
Gun-lovin' state senator from Sarasota Greg Steube.
Florida House of Representatives
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Despite what the National Rifle Association claims, gun laws influence gun deaths. For example, it's completely legal in Las Vegas to walk around town holding a loaded, military-style rifle. No one can stop you, which is likely one reason terrorist Stephen Paddock was able to carry an arsenal of assault weapons into a Mandalay Bay hotel room and use them to murder 59 people and wound more than 500 others over the weekend.

Well, wouldn't you know it, Florida's own GOP lawmakers have already filed bills in Tallahassee to weaken the state's concealed-carry rules so it would be just about legal to openly carry firearms in public.

The bills would make it more probable that someone like Paddock could legally stroll into a Miami hotel, post up at a window, and fire at innocent people. So far, the lawmakers proposing those bills in the state House and Senate are mum on whether they'll stand by the measures in the wake of the recent attack, but it's hard to believe they'd back down now. (The bills were proposed earlier this year but deserve new scrutiny after the tragedy in Nevada.)

Like many of Florida's craziest ideas, most of the bills have come from the office of Sarasota state Sen. Greg Steube, arguably the most right-wing member of the state Legislature. (Which is saying a lot.) For the upcoming 2018 legislative session, Steube has proposed two bills that would weaken the state concealed-carry law: One bill would allow permit-holders to take guns inside courthouses, where everyone always remains calm and is never faced with the sort of life-altering stress that might, say, push someone to shoot people.

More egregious, Steube has proposed a bill that would effectively turn the state's "concealed"-carry law into a de facto open-carry provision. (Polk County state Rep. Neil Combee has proposed a companion measure in the House.)

Steube's second bill would water down penalties for people who walk around carrying their "concealed" guns in the open. Under his rule, doing so without a concealed-carry permit would still be a misdemeanor crime. But under Steube's new bill, "concealed" permit-holders could wave their guns around in the air and face noncriminal fines for their first and second offenses.

The bill would also legalize "temporarily" displaying your gun out in the open. Under the measure, police can't arrest anyone "temporarily" carrying their guns in broad daylight:

A person licensed to carry a concealed firearm under this section whose firearm is temporarily and openly displayed to the ordinary sight of another person does not violate s. 790.053 and may not be arrested or charged with a noncriminal or criminal violation of s. 790.053.

The problem? Steube's bill doesn't define "temporary." The bill as written would let Floridians wander around town with guns openly displayed and nobody could arrest them if they claimed it was just a one-time incident.

Steube did not respond to two calls to his office and an email from New Times today.

But given his bullheaded response to last year's massacre at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), it's unlikely Steube will budge this time around. Last year, he proposed a bill that would have allowed concealed-carry permit-holders to take guns into certain portions of airports. After Esteban Santiago carried a gun into FLL and killed five people, Steube told New Times he believed his bill would have saved people rather than ensured they were slaughtered more often.

"I think it further enforces the point: People should have the ability to defend themselves," Steube said last year.

(This year, Steube also proposed a measure that would hold the operators of "gun-free zones" liable if people were shot or injured in those establishments. A nearly identical bill proposed last year failed.)

Combee, the Polk County rep backing Steube in the House, has also pitched his own bill, which would let concealed-carry permit-holders take weapons into churches as long as those "religious institutions" have schools attached. Lakeland state Sen. Kelli Stargel is backing a version of Combee's bill in her chamber. Confederacy-loving state Sen. Dennis Baxley also proposed an identical copy of the same bill but withdrew his version.

Combee, who was not immediately available to speak with New Times today, proposed a similar measure last year. After Emanuel Samson opened fire inside a Nashville church late last month, killing one woman, a bystander with a gun held Samson at bay until police arrived. Pro-gun advocates and the NRA have latched onto the case as proof that guns somehow stop crime — and Combee immediately used the tragedy to demand Florida allow guns in church.

“Kind of makes everybody understand why it’s important to a lot of folks in churches, that they have the right to protect their members," Combee said last week, ignoring the fact that the whole ordeal began after Samson took a gun into the church in the first place. (Also, Samson actually shot himself by accident after the then-unarmed bystander tackled him, but that's another story.)

At least one state rep has taken another route toward reducing mass shootings after Vegas. Winter Park Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith filed an assault-weapons ban in the state House today in response to the massacre. But given the current state of affairs in Tallahassee, his measure is doomed to fail.

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