While several gun bills appeared stalled in the Florida Senate, a couple recently passed the House. One gives places of worship attached to a school the authority to allow guns on the property.
Around the country, churches, synagogues, and other places of worship have been attacked in recent years. So, Rep. Neil Combee (R-Polk City) says these religious institutions have a right to protect themselves.
But, he says for those with private schools or similar areas attached, they aren’t even allowed to have guests with concealed license permits carry firearms or private security armed with guns on the property.
“Under current law, the state legislature has effectively made churches gun free zones if they have a daycare as a part of their house of worship,” Combee said. “This is private property. We should leave that decision to the folks who own the property.”
That’s why he authored a bill doing just that and it passed the House 76-35 with Democrats opposed.
But, the Senate appears to be going down a different path.
Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami)—also the Senate President’s Second in Command—has already made it known that she isn’t in favor of guns on campus or school zones.
And, she recently amended the Senate version of Combee’s bill to reflect those views.
“The intention is to ensure that it wouldn’t just be non-school hours, but also during any school-sanctioned activities,” Flores said. “So, after school, a basketball game or baseball game or whatever it is, that that would still be considered a school so that a gun could not be brought on campus during those school-sanctioned activities either.”
And, that change is not sitting well with Combee.
“Ours is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” said Combee. “They would limit to just worship service hours only. When school or an activity was taking place, they would not be exempt. Obviously, for some of the megachurches, that doesn’t work very well because they have activities going on quite a bit. Some of those places are like three-ring circuses. So, it really would defeat the purpose if we accept that amendment.”
Combee also has another bill that intends to deal with accidental displays of a firearm by lowering the penalties for a violation.
“Currently, if a person licensed to carry a concealed firearm temporarily and openly displayed to the ordinary side of another person, it is a second-degree misdemeanor,” stated Combee. “This bill reduces the penalty from a second degree misdemeanor to a non-criminal violation of $25 payable to the Clerk of Courts for the first violation. If there is a second violation, the fine is $500, also payable to the Clerk of Courts. And, if there is a third violation or subsequent violation, it’s a second degree misdemeanor. So, it reverts back to current law.”
But, Democrats, like Rep. Joe Geller (D-Aventura), say while they appreciate the bill’s intent, the language of the bill needs to be narrowly tailored.
“And, if it was accidental and inadvertent display is all we were talking about, I would be prepared to be for this bill. I understand the wind can blow your jacket open,” he said. “I understand you can be reaching for the cornflakes on the top shelf. This says temporary and openly displayed. This doesn’t say accidental, it doesn’t say inadvertent, it doesn’t say by mistake. So, if it’s a deliberate, temporary, and open display, you can do it under this bill, and I don’t think that’s why we’re here to try and protect.”
Still, the measure passed the House 80-34 mostly along party lines with most Democrats opposed. Meanwhile, its Senate companion has not yet had a hearing.
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