TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Republicans in the state Legislature this week are closing in on their goal of getting a permitless carry bill on the governor's desk sooner rather than later.
The state Senate had its first look at the permitless carry bill in the Criminal Justice Committee Monday. If signed, as the governor has promised, the policy would allow the concealed carrying of firearms in Florida without the currently required permit or training.
Republicans call the change a Second Amendment right that does not require a "government permission slip."
"We have a constitutional right to bear arms and protect those things that are important to us — those things we love and hold dear," Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, the bill's sponsor, said. "Getting the government permission slip out of the way is the impetus for this bill. It is what we are trying to change."
With a GOP supermajority, the party has the votes to move the bill at will in both the upper and lower chambers of the Legislature. Unless Republicans hit a major snag, permitless carry will head to the House floor and be a step from the Senate floor by Tuesday night.
"Senate Democrats are ready to fight," Sen. Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said. "It's going to be a very busy week."
Both Book and House Minority Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell said their members would push back this week the best they could. Members have offered numerous amendments, not likely to be adopted, and studies that suggest weakened conceal-carry rules in other states have led to more violent crime.
"I do not believe that adding more guns in our communities — carried by basically anyone— will make Florida safer," Driskell said. "Our caucus believes that every Floridian has the right to be healthy, prosperous, and safe."
Democrats may not have the numbers needed to block the policy, but they will have the backing of national gun reform advocates. Several have denounced the bill, including March For Our Lives, founded by Parkland students. The group recently announced a rally in the state capitol scheduled for March 22.
"The fear of gun violence continues to rule the lives of young people, and we deserve — and will claim — the right to be freed of that fear," David Hogg, co-founder of March For Our Lives, said in a statement.
But at the speed Republicans are moving, permitless carry might be bound for the governor sooner rather than later.
In an interview last week, House Speaker Paul Renne, R-Palm Coast, defended constitutional carry as a public safety measure and the controversial decision to place it inside a policy that contains broadly supported school safety improvements, things like expanding the state's guardian program to private schools and requiring active assailant training for all law enforcement in the state.
Democrats have said the packaged legislation is a "cynical political ploy." Renner called it "a convenience."
"In the legislative process — we have 2,000 bills that get filed," Renner said. "You'll see a lot of that, where the scope of the bill would fit more than one topic. We combine those two together, so we can get those through and passed off the floor."
Permitless carry is one of many high-profile and controversial bills likely to get to DeSantis this year. The fellow Republican is backing many of them and said on Fox News, Monday morning that 2023 would be "the most productive legislative Session we have had across the board."