Two gun bills shot down in Florida Legislature

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Washington, DC, January 22, 2016 | comments

SUN SENTINEL

Two gun bills shot down in Florida Legislature

By Dan Sweeney

TALLAHASSEE - The legislature loaded up on gun rights bills when the session started, but already two appear to have been shot down.

Bills were offered that would allow the open carrying of firearms, the carrying of firearms on college campuses, and that would make a stand your ground defense easier. Only the only open carry bill still shows signs of life.

One reason: State Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, who effectively killed the campus-carry bill by refusing to schedule a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs.

Diaz de la Portilla said his "position hasn't changed from last year" when he also refused to schedule a hearing on the bill.

"I don't think we'll hear a campus carry bill this session," he said on Wednesday.

State Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, sponsor of that bill, said Thursday he was "disappointed" but would keep pressing for the bill to get a hearing.

A bill that would make it easier for people to defend themselves in a stand-your-ground hearing moved forward on the Senate floor Thursday, but that was probably an empty gesture. A House panel had already voted against the bill, which would have placed the burden of proof on the state instead of the person claiming the stand-your-ground defense.

The open-carry bill remains and Diaz de la Portilla has said it will likely get a hearing within two weeks. More than 40 states already allow the open carrying of firearms, but many of them also allow cities and counties to ban it. The proposed Florida law would supercede all local laws.

Even open carry's future is murkier after the Florida Sheriffs Association proposed an alternative bill that, instead of allowing the open display of firearms, would protect legal gun owners who inadvertently show their arms — for example, if wind were to lift up a jacket or shirt.

That option has met with mixed support from Republicans. Diaz de la Portilla has said he would consider it as an amendment to the open carry law, but Evers does not believe it does enough to protect Second Amendment rights.

For their part, Democrats are largely opposed to both open carry and the sheriffs' alternative.

"That's a situation of making an awful bill just bad," said state Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale.

Smith joined U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, and state Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, at the capital Thursday to speak out against all the bills. Their top target was the campus-carry legislation that Diaz de la Portilla had declared all but dead the day before.

But speculation over the bill's demise did not convince Smith, who evoked the image of the traditional dropping of a handkerchief to signal the end of the 60-day Florida legislative session.

"I've been here for 16 years and until that handkerchief gets dropped, there's always a concern," he said. "We've seen on day 59 bills get pulled out of committee, moved this way and then things pop up. ... Until the handkerchief drops, we're not safe from the Legislature."

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