Florida could soon become the 26th state to allow individuals to carry concealed loaded guns anywhere without permits — a growing trend that has alarmed gun safety groups.
Republican leaders in the Florida Legislature said they intend to introduce and advance such legislation when they convene the coming legislative session on March 7.
Conservatives and gun rights activists have taken to calling the category of legislation “constitutional carry,” even though no provisions in the Constitution explicitly allow for the right to carry concealed, unlicensed weapons. Gun safety and gun control activists, as well as neutral groups, prefer to label the category of legislation “permitless carry.”
Asked whether state Senate President Kathleen Passidomo would help introduce a bill allowing people to carry concealed loaded guns in public without concealed carry permits, a spokesperson replied, “Yes.”
“President Passidomo supports permitless carry legislation,” said the spokesperson, Katy Betta.
Republican state House Speaker Paul Renner also suggested he was planning to move such a proposal through his chamber.
“The Florida House will work to expand constitutional rights that empower law-abiding citizens to defend themselves,” Renner said in a written statement responding to questions from NBC News.
Lawmakers had not yet pre-filed any such bills Thursday, but Renner aides said the introduction of at least one was imminent.
GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis said last month that the issue had emerged as a priority for him in 2023.
“This was something that I’ve always supported,” DeSantis told the Tampa Bay Times in December. “The last two years, it was not necessarily a priority for the legislative leadership. But we’ve been talking about it … and it’ll be something that will be done in the regular session.”
DeSantis, who is believed to be considering a run for president in 2024, had promised to deliver such a bill before he leaves office.
A spokesperson for Renner suggested legislation might closely resemble a bill from the 2022 session, HB 103, which proposed “deleting a requirement that a license to carry a concealed firearm is required in order to carry such a firearm.”
Having gained supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature in the November election, Florida Republicans would be able to overcome any Democratic opposition and pass their preferred law.
A spokesperson for DeSantis did not respond to questions about the timing and circumstances of any potential permitless carry bills in the coming legislative session.
Under Florida law, individuals who seek to carry concealed guns in public are required to obtain concealed weapons licenses from the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “Constitutional carry” and “permitless carry” laws eliminate the requirement. It is not legal in Florida to openly carry a weapon.
If and when legislators enact such legislation in the coming session, Florida would become the 26th state to do so, expanding a national trend in which an increasing number of states are allowing the practice.
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Other states where lawmakers have introduced permitless carry legislation in the past two years include Virginia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Nebraska, though those efforts failed and continue to face an uphill climb. Nebraska Republican legislators introduced a permitless carry bill this week that experts say may have a stronger chance of passing this year, though it still faces obstacles in advancing because Republicans do not have a supermajority in the legislature.
In 2021, Arizona, Iowa, Montana, Tennessee, Texas and Utah enacted laws allowing permitless carry, and, last year, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana and Ohio did, too.
Florida, however, remains among a small group of just four solidly red states — the others are North Carolina, South Carolina and Louisiana — that still do not allow the practice.
The broader landscape has alarmed gun safety and gun control groups, who argue that such bills, either by design or by circumstance, would circumvent existing laws requiring background checks and firearms training.
In Florida, for example, most gun owners must complete firearms training courses with state-certified instructors as part of their applications for concealed carry licenses. Permitless carry laws get rid of that requirement.
“Permitless carry causes harm, and there is data to prove it,” said Shannon Watts, a board member at the gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety.
She pointed to multiple studies showing that states that have implemented permitless carry have had upticks in both gun violence and police shootings. They include an analysis last year by Everytown showing that handgun homicide rates rose by 11% in states that weakened their gun permitting regulations. In addition, a study last year by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that police shootings had increased by 13% in 10 states that had passed permitless carry laws from 2014 to 2020.
“The gun lobby says we don’t need new laws; we just need to enforce laws that are already on the books," said Allison Anderman, the senior counsel and director of local policy at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“Permitless carry does the opposite," she added. "It prevents us from enforcing existing laws.”