Florida lawmakers give boost to guns in church

A proposal that would let people with concealed weapons licenses pack heat at churches or other religious institutions that share properties with schools is heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday voted 24-16 along party lines to give final approval to the measure (HB 259), which passed the House last month. DeSantis’ office did not immediately reply to a question about whether the governor will sign the bill.

Florida law generally allows people to carry concealed weapons at churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious institutions, but it bars being armed on school properties. That leads to people being prevented from carrying guns on properties shared by religious institutions and schools. 

Senate sponsor Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said the bill closes a "loophole."

"This is about safety," Gruters said. "We saw what happened in Texas when a church, unfortunately, was the target. Six seconds it took them to secure that location. This gives schools the needed safety they need. It gives churches the additional security that they need. This gives the property owners the ultimate responsibility to make the decision that's best for them."

Democrat countered the proposal won’t improve safety."

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"It's a fallacy, Dirty Harry, Rambo. John McClane aren't going to be rising up in a church and taking out the bad guy," Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, said. "When you’ve got more guns, you've got more danger, period. These are religious institutions. They're supposed to be peaceful places of worship. Why anybody would bring a gun to a church is beyond me."

Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, argued that an FBI study of 160 active shooter incidents from 2000 to 2013 found just one where a person with a concealed weapons license stopped a shooter.

"It just makes me very uncomfortable that we're saying more guns, more guns, more guns, when we have had, is it 60 mass shootings so far this year?" Polsky said. "So let's just add more guns in a sacred place like a church, a temple, a mosque. I believe there are other ways to make those institutions safe.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, a North Miami Beach Democrat who is an attorney, said he doesn’t expect the proposal to withstand a court challenge over property rights.

On Monday, the Senate rejected a series of proposed Democratic amendments to the bill that included seeking to limit possession of guns to current or former law-enforcement officers and to prohibit carrying guns while school is in session or extracurricular activities are underway.

Religious institutions or property owners would continue to be able to bar guns at the sites, under the bill.

Tuesday’s vote moved the bill further than the last time a similar proposal was on the Senate floor. In 2018, an attempt stalled as lawmakers’ attention shifted to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

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