Proposed legislation from Republican lawmakers in Florida would allow residents to carry firearms in the state without a permit, a measure supported by Governor Ron DeSantis and the National Rifle Association.
A so-called “constitutional carry” movement – which has pushed for the unrestrained carrying of firearms without a license or permit – is teeing up Florida to become the 25th state with such a measure in place. It’s an idea that the governor and potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate has said he “always supported”.
Under House Bill 543 introduced by Republican House Speaker Paul Renner, who is presiding over the GOP-controlled state legislature, prospective gun owners would no longer be required to get a permit, nor would they have to fulfill a training requirement that’s currently needed to obtain a permit.
Democratic state Rep Christine Hunschofsky, who was mayor of Parkland at the time of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in 2018, told reporters on 30 January that the bill “is not constitutional carry, this is untrained carry”.
“We have to be very clear and specific as to what the legislation actually does, and that is to remove the training requirement, and you will no longer have the check if you have something disqualifying you in your criminal record,” she said.
Flanked by members of the NRA and Florida Sheriffs Association at a separate press conference on Monday, Mr Renner said Republican state lawmakers intend to “remove the government permission slip to exercise a constitutional right.”
The NRA’s Florida director Art Thomm said in a statement that the organisation “looks forward to welcoming Florida into the fold of freedom that constitutional carry provides.”
Democratic House leader Fentrice Driskell called the bill “dangerous,” adding that “responsible gun ownership means knowing how to operate and store your firearm for your own safety and for the safety of those around you”.
“Freedom should include the freedom to live a life free of gun violence,” Democratic state representative Anna Eskamanti said in a statement with Democratic lawmakers. “That’s not the case today in Florida and it won’t be the case with permit-less carry either.”
More than 2.6 million people in Florida possess a concealed weapons license, as of 31 December, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which administers the programme.
Within the last decade, more than 9,000 people have been killed and more than 14,000 injured with a firearm in Florida, where there have been 244 mass killings and 11 mass murders since 2013, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Following the massacre in Parkland, Florida lawmakers approved a Risk Protection Order law, or “red flag” law, which allows law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily restrict at-risk individuals from being able to access firearms. The state also raised the age to purchase a firearm to 21.
But gun reform advocates have argued that the “Gunshine State” has also undermined advances in gun safety by allowing school staff to carry firearms and refusing to repeal the so-called “Stand Your Ground” law.
“In an era of increased mass shootings and rising gun crime, it is outlandish that our legislature is being asked to loosen gun restrictions rather than strengthen them,” according to a statement from advocacy group Prevent Gun Violence Florida.
The group has called on lawmakers to implement universal background checks, ban military-style assault weapons, and create safe storage laws that mandate how firearms are stored in gun owners’ homes.
Florida lawmakers will consider House Bill 543 when the legislative session begins on 7 March.