Florida Expansion Of Gun Rights Possible In Upcoming Session
From Sun Sentine — lBefore long, you could find yourself walking up to a ticket counter in an airport behind someone legally carrying a firearm. The same on a college campus. Or in your kids’ school.
Florida law prevents concealed carry permit holders from carrying their weapons in more than a dozen kinds of locations, but many of them could become acceptable places to pack heat in the legislative session that begins March 7.
And the one man who previously stopped similar bills from happening is no longer there to block them.
In the last two years, state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, served as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee while bills allowing open carry and carrying firearms on college campuses sailed through the state House. But all of these bills were referred to Diaz de la Portilla’s committee in the Senate, where he simply refused to schedule them for a hearing, effectively killing the legislation.
This November, Diaz de la Portilla lost a re-election battle against state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami. And this week, Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, announced his replacement to run Judiciary: freshman state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, who just came off six years in the state House, where he was one of the Legislature’s strongest supporters of gun rights.
Steube’s staff is now drafting an omnibus gun-rights bill that would repeal bans on carrying firearms on college campuses as well as several of the other locations in which they are prohibited. The legislation could allow concealed carry permit holders to openly carry their firearms as well.
The bill “isn’t far along in the drafting process, so I don’t know exactly what it looks like at this point,” Steube said.
Despite that, Steube pointed to “college campuses, courthouses, airports, K-12 environments and legislative committee meetings” as a few of the areas he may target. There are others, though, that will remain off limits.
“I don’t have a problem with us not being able to carry in a police department, where everyone is armed. I don’t have a problem with places on the other side of airport security, where you have to go through a metal detector,” Steube said. “But if those security measures aren’t in place, how can you tell me I can’t carry my weapon when I have a permit? I’ve gone through the training.”
The state senator’s training with firearms is more extensive than most concealed weapons permit holders.
After graduating from the University of Florida’s law school in 2003, Steube joined the Army. He served in the infantry for a year before joining the military’s legal wing, the JAG Corps, where he served for three years, including a deployment to Iraq. That experience solidified Steube’s already firm belief in the expansion of gun rights. He was elected to the state House in 2010 and reliably filed pro-gun rights bills from his re-election in 2012 onward.
Steube filed three bills as a state representative in the 2016 session that would have ended concealed weapon prohibitions on college campuses, in local and state government meetings and in elementary and secondary schools. The government meetings and K-12 bills went nowhere. The campus carry bill passed the House, but like other successful House bills such as a measure that would have allowed openly carrying firearms, it was killed by Diaz de la Portilla.
Now, Steube, one of the most pro-gun voices in the Legislature, has replaced the man who became gun control’s most powerful ally there. But the changing of the guard in the Judiciary Committee does not necessarily mean these bills will sail through the Senate unopposed.
Every attempt at expanding gun rights in the Senate last year went through both the Judiciary and Criminal Justice committees.
Criminal Justice had been chaired by state Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, a bluff, drawling Panhandle man who was as big an advocate of the Second Amendment as you could find in the Senate. But he is gone now, term-limited out of office, and in his place as chair of Criminal Justice is freshman state Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando.
When Negron announced his committee chairs this week, the fact that they included four Democrats was news in itself, a strong showing of bipartsanship in a process that could have awarded every chairmanship to Republicans. Committee chairs can decide what bills get heard in their committees, so if Steube’s proposed omnibus gun bill is assigned to Criminal Justice, Bracy could pull a Diaz de la Portilla and simply refuse to hear the bill.
Bracy has not said whether he would refuse to hear the proposed pro-gun legislation and did not respond to a request for an interview. But Steube believes his bill will be heard in Criminal Justice and, more importantly, pass.
He said he also has talked with several pro-gun House members about filing a bill similar to his own.
“They’re still trying to figure out what they’re going to do over there,” he said. “Me, I’m trying to cut out as many of the exceptions as I can.”