One of the first bills introduced in the most recent Florida state legislative session has drawn sharp opinions on both sides. If passed, HB 543 would allow Floridians to carry concealed legally licensed firearms without permits. Currently, citizens must finish firearms training and clear a background check before being granted a concealed carry permit. It would not change who can legally possess guns and still empowers businesses to prohibit weapons on their premises. Law enforcement leaders in the state, however, have expressed varying thoughts on the bill.
Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis, president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, has shown public support for the legislation along with his predecessor Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
“I think we can assume that our citizens are going to do the right thing when it comes to carrying and bearing arms,” Nienhuis said at a news conference announcing the legislation in late January.
“It doesn’t mean that it’s going to allow people to get their hands on guns who shouldn’t,” Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times. Rather, he added, the bill removes barriers for responsible gun owners.
“My concern is that with more guns on the street, there may be a greater potential for simple arguments to escalate to gun violence. If you have to take a driver’s license test/course before you can operate a vehicle on our roadways, why wouldn’t you want someone to prove that they, at least, have a working knowledge of a dangerous weapon,” countered St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway in an email to the newspaper.
Data regarding the impact of permit-less carry laws is inconsistent and in short supply.
“The people who get permits or licenses to carry tend to be in a pretty law-abiding group, but what we’re finding is that as gun-carrying gets deregulated and more people are doing it, a lot more guns are being stolen, particularly from motor vehicles,” Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy, told NBC News.
HB 543 continues to work its way through the legislative process, and by most public reporting, Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk.
As seen in the March 2023 issue of American Police Beat magazine.
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