When the Florida legislature’s 2023 session officially gets underway on Tuesday, one of the first orders of business is expected to be the approval of permitless carry legislation. Both the House and Senate have been holding committee hearings on the legislation ahead of the official start of the session, and the House bill is already cleared for debate on the floor so it shouldn’t take long before the final votes are held.
While there’s not much doubt that permitless carry legislation will get to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature, there’s still some question about what the bill will actually look like in its final form. Many Second Amendment advocates, alongside Gun Owners of America, have objected to the fact that neither the House nor Senate bill allows for open carry, but over the weekend GOA’s Florida director managed to get the governor to endorse amending the bill and addressing the concerns of 2A activists… though there is a catch.
Havana’s Luis Valdes recorded DeSantis Thursday night saying that he supports allowing Floridians to openly display firearms in public, but DeSantis doesn’t believe lawmakers will be willing to amend a permitless carry bill moving in the House.
“Yeah, absolutely,” DeSantis is heard to say when asked whether a permitless carry bill HB 543 should be amended to allow people to carry and display firearms in most public places.
The exchange took place in Jacksonville where DeSantis was promoting his book, “The Courage to Be Free,” which is widely believed to be the opening act of a presidential campaign.
“I don’t think they’ll do it,” said DeSantis about lawmakers giving gun rights groups what they want.
“But, I would absolutely,” said DeSantis.
Valdes, the executive director of the Florida chapter of Gun Owners of America, said he found the exchange with DeSantis encouraging for the open carry movement.
It’s definitely encouraging, though I don’t know that it will have much of an impact this session. Remember, DeSantis was publicly supportive of a permitless or Constitutional Carry bill last year too, and yet permitless carry didn’t even receive a single hearing in committee in 2022. DeSantis had an opportunity to include permitless carry in the legislature’s special session last year as well, but it wasn’t included on the governor’s agenda.
To me, the big questions don’t revolve around whether DeSantis supports including open carry in the permitless carry legislation, but how much he’s willing to twist arms and do some horse-trading with reluctant legislators in order to make it happen this year… along with how open GOP leadership in the legislature is to making those changes to improve the bill.
The GOA argued during a committee hearing last month, the restrictions on open carry infringed on a “God-given right to self-defense enshrined in the Constitution.”
[Bill sponsor Rep. Chuck] Brannan explained the bill aims to, “allow Floridians to carry their concealed (weapon) without the red tape and expense of government … that’s what it’s really about.” When pushed on adding an open carry provision, he added that the bill “is what it is as it’s filed,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Valdes calls Brannan’s apparent unwillingness to amend his proposal discouraging, and the lack of action in the Senate on an amendment, hypocritical for Republicans.
“The Republican Supermajority is refusing to advance true constitutional carry legislation, even though the governor promised to give Florida’s voters exactly that, and it’s what the citizenry is demanding,” said Valdes in a prepared statement. “A real constitutional carry law will allow law-abiding Floridians and our guests to legally conceal and open carry firearms without a government permission slip.”
Florida is one of just three states that don’t allow open-carry in any form or fashion, and it really is somewhat bizarre to see the reticence of Republican lawmakers to include open carry in the current legislation. I have yet to hear a good explanation for its absence, at least from a policy perspective. Politically, the lack of an open carry provision may have been necessary in order to get the support of lawmakers like Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, who said last year that she preferred putting a Constitutional Carry measure to a vote of the people instead of passing a bill through the legislature.
Passidomo is now supporting the Senate bill, so something changed over the past few months, and I can’t help but wonder if open carry was a part of the behind-the-scenes negotiations that led to her change of heart.
Whatever the motivation, if the current permitless carry legislation has a chance of being amended it’s going to take more than the governor’s comments to Valdes on Friday night. If DeSantis takes the approach that he’ll sign whatever lawmakers give him I doubt that open carry will be a part of whatever gets to his desk, and I hope that the governor’s remarks will be repeated in a more public setting before the floor debate on HB 543 gets underway.