GOP lawmakers feeling the heat and on the defensive as gun rights groups push for ‘open carry’

Gun Rights

With GOP supermajorities in the Legislature, House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo can easily pass bills that top their agenda, but a gun rights bill has put Republican lawmakers feeling the heat and on the defensive these days.

That’s because legislation this session about a permitless/‘constitutional” carry bill — requiring no permit or training class — isn’t enough for the gun advocates who have been streaming into the state capital.

There’s clearly been a breakdown in what true “constitutional carry” means for gun rights advocates. And they want that bill to include a provision for Floridians to be able to openly carry firearms in public (current Florida law allows one to openly carry a weapon to and from hunting, fishing, camping and the gun range). It’s called “open carry.”

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And things are getting a bit dicey.

At a Senate committee meeting last week, Matt Collins, a gun rights supporter, said that it was “embarrassing” for Gov. Ron DeSantis if he couldn’t get open carry passed this year.  It would be “political impotence on the part of Gov. DeSantis, Collins said. “It’s failed leadership and it’s weak,” he added.

Nick Leraha, at that same committee meeting, told the Legislature that it was their job to fulfill DeSantis’ vision.  He told the Phoenix on Monday that he understands the governor’s “laissez-faire approach with an imminent 2024 presidential campaign, but I don’t think it will be a sufficient response for many strong Second Amendment supporters.”

Over the weekend, a video went viral that showed House Rep. Chuck Brannan, representing North Florida counties, express his disdain for gun rights advocates who continue to push for open carry.

Trying to restore the liberties

Florida GOP Rep. Chuck Brannan speaking with gun rights supporter this weekend regarding permitless carry bill
(photo credit: screenshot from video from Matt Collins).

It happened after Serena Barker, a junior at Florida State University and the state chair of the group Young Americans for Liberty, was door knocking in Brannan’s neighborhood and distributing a flyer, she told the Florida Phoenix.

A photo of the flyer (which can be seen on Matt Collins’ Twitter page) shows Joe Biden apparently shaking Brannan’s hand.

However, Brannan told Florida Politics that he has never met Biden.

Barker told the Phoenix the incident happened after she had initially spoken with Brannan’s wife at their front door before he flagged her down.

“Maybe we just pull the whole thing, then ya’ll can say, ‘Well, we pissed them off and we didn’t get nothing this year.’ How about that?” a clearly annoyed Brannan is shown saying to Barker. Brannan then quickly adds in the video – “take a win, lady, take a win.”

After Barker says that “we’re really just trying to protect the freedoms of the American people. We just are trying to restore the liberties -” Brannan comes back at her and says, “Not by lyin’ you’re not. You hurt Republicans, you hurt everybody. You’re not doin’ anybody any good.”

Barker told the Phoenix on Monday that she truly wasn’t intending on upsetting Brannan, but says she was surprised by his response and “the way that he didn’t really care what I had to say.”

Barker has appeared before the Legislature this year to lobby for open carry, and says she doesn’t understand “in a state as red as Florida where we have a majority in both the House and Senate that we could not also include open carry and make sure that we’re protecting our Second Amendment rights.  It seems like they’re using the (the Florida) Sheriffs Association as a cop out instead of actually listening to their constituents and what we want.”

Insulting to our gun owners

Another gun rights advocate says the video shows that Brannan isn’t respecting Second Amendment supporters.

“Threatening to pull the bill because gun owners want to make it better is insulting to our members and shows that some lawmakers are willing to possibly scuttle the governor’s 2024 campaign,” says Luis Valdes in an email to the Phoenix. He is the Florida director for Gun Owners of America, referencing Gov. Ron DeSantis. “All because gun owners simply want what the governor has pledged, fulfilled.”

Valdes believes the governor truly wants open carry legislation. “The issue is the governor cannot create law – the legislators do,” he says.

In fact, in recent weeks DeSantis has said he would pass legislation that included open carry.

Open carry advocates have seized upon DeSantis’ comments as the cudgel that should move Republican lawmakers to vote their way, but it’s not working – and some gun advocates are growing weary that GOP legislators aren’t responding to their efforts.

Hillsborough County Republican Sen. Jay Collins, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, isn’t deterred by the criticism. He said this weekend in a twitter released on his Twitter page that the bill is a “monumental codification of our Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms.”

Art Thomm, the Florida director for the NRA, agrees. “It is a huge step forward, even without those provisions in the law” he told the Phoenix last week.

The Florida Sheriffs Association has come out in support of permitless carry, but a spokesman for the group says that they have no official position on an open carry provision because no such bill exists. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the legislative chair of that group, continues to make clear that he personally does not support the policy of open carry.

Though there is no way for Democrats to legislatively stop the bill from becoming law, gun control advocates say they won’t stop fighting against permitless carry.

Gun safety groups condemn legislation

A coalition of gun safety organizations including Prevent Gun Violence Florida, the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus, Newtown Action Alliance, Ban Assault Weapons Now (BAWN) and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence are holding a press conference in St. Petersburg this Thursday to condemn the legislation.

They say the bill will make Florida less safe, citing the fact that those seeking to carry concealed firearms will no longer need to provide fingerprints and complete a state-approved gun safety course administered through the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Safety (FDACS) to obtain such a license.

Between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022 FDACS denied 26,879 applications for concealed weapons licenses in Florida and an additional 5,739 from out of state applications. The department also revoked and/or suspended 9,938 licenses, according to a report from FDACS.

Sheriff Gualtieri has dismissed the quality of the gun safety courses that applicants obtaining a concealed weapons permit currently get.

“If you go online for a concealed carry permit training in Florida, the first thing that’s going to come up is a company out of Las Vegas, Nevada, and you do it online. That’s not training,” Gualtieri told the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee last week.

But Dan Oates, who served as the police chief in Miami Beach as well as an officer in New York City, Ann Arbor and Aurora, Colorado, says the idea of no training at all is better than any type gun safety training is “ludicrous” and “doesn’t stand up to any kind of logic.”

“Every reasonable cop knows that this is going to result in more guns being held by people who don’t know how to handle them safely and it’s going to lead to an increase in violence,” he told the Phoenix last week.

Sen. Collins has batted down studies offered by Democrats who claim that states that have passed permitless carry bills have seen an increase in gun homicides and said that there are other studies that show that there hasn’t been any increase in crime at all.

Both the Senate and the House permitless carry bills have cleared all of their committees and have been placed on the calendar for floor votes in both chambers.

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