TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As Florida readies for this week's reflection on the fifth anniversary of the Parkland school shooting, controversy is swirling at the state Capitol over a proposed gun law. Republicans in the Senate have merged their permitless carry bill with school safety provisions, frustrating Democrats.
Like the House policy, this new bill still allows Floridians to carry concealed weapons without the currently needed permit or training. But, it also aims to improve threat sharing between schools and requires law enforcement to have active shooter response policies, with annual training.
"Overall, it's about protecting those things that are most valuable and important to us," Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, said. "It is our families. It is our children."
Collins is the freshman lawmaker carrying the bill, what he called a public safety package during a news conference last Friday.
"We have a God-given and constitutional right to defend our families,” Collins said.
But Democrats aren't impressed. Members suggest the GOP supermajority is playing politics, trying to make the gun policy more appealing to the Legislature and public by wrapping it in broadly supported school safety upgrades.
House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said the change "feels like a bait and switch." She considered the move gaslighting.
"It's not just insulting, it's also tone-deaf," Driskell said. "Most Floridians and most Americans want common-sense gun laws. They want universal background checks. They want to make sure that weapons don't wind up in the hands of people who should not have them."
Collins and his GOP colleagues have rebuffed the concerns. They denied the change was a slight against their colleagues across the aisle.
"This isn't a dig," Collins said. "This is what strong public policy looks like."
The Republican seemed confident his version, bulked up with school stuff, would be the policy that moves forward, potentially reaching the governor's desk before the end of the upcoming regular lawmaking session. The 60-day assembly runs from March to May this year.
"To my knowledge, everybody is moving forward, working together," Collins said. "We are one state, on mission, to do what we do."
Approving permitless carry is a major GOP goal for 2023. Gov. Ron DeSantis promoted the idea last April, vowing to make the law a reality before leaving office.
"I can tell you that before I am done as governor, we will have a signature on that bill," DeSantis said.