Imagine this scenario: A hurricane is about to pummel Dade County. Hundreds of thousands of panicked, jumpy residents sit on traffic-clogged escape routes, all trying desperately to get to safety. And now a simple question: Should all those people, even those without legal concealed carry permits, be allowed to carry guns?
A National Guard lawyer didn't think so, and he told the Florida Senate as much last week. "They probably should not have a weapon shoved in the back of their pants," he said according to the Tampa Tribune. That's when the NRA went into crisis mode; by the time they were done, not only had Gov. Rick Scott come out emphatically for the bill, but the National Guard had disowned its own attorney.
The Tampa Tribune recounts the behind-the-scenes saga this morning in an account that proved yet again just how much power the NRA and its Florida lobbyist, Marion Hammer, wield in the Sunshine State.
The conflict arose over SB 296, a bill sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg.
Brandes wants to change Florida's concealed weapons laws so that during a mandatory evacuation, anyone who owns a gun can legally take it along.
Before voting on the idea, senators on the Criminal Justice committee wanted to hear from the experts who actually run a mass evacuation -- the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Florida National Guard.
The Sheriffs Association is opposed to the idea because it would lead to thousands of untrained, armed civilians complicating an already stressful situation. And while the National Guard didn't take an official stance, a staff attorney named Capt. Terrence Gorman echoed those concerns.
That's when Hammer leaned over to a senior military official, the Tribune reports, and muttered that Gorman was now on her "shit list."
Then Hammer went to work, meeting with top aides to Gov. Scott, who quickly and emphatically announced his support for the bill.
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Hammer next turned to the National Guard. Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw quickly sent a letter to the Senate committee announcing that Gorman "is not authorized" to speak for the Guard, and that the Florida National Guard does in fact support the measure.
Hopefully everyone remotely connected to Florida state government has learned an important lesson about not airing eminently reasonable concerns about any gun-related legislation.
Brandes bill is currently stalled in another committee, awaiting a vote.