During a press conference in rural Levy County, Gov. Ron DeSantis promised that “before I am done as governor, we will have a signature on” what supporters call a “constitutional carry” bill that would allow residents to carry concealed guns without needing licenses.
During an event in February at Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, DeSantis told an audience he expected the Legislature to address the issue in a special session this year, according to J.C. Martin, chairman of the Polk County Republican Party.
But how, exactly, would that change Florida’s existing gun laws? And what is constitutional carry?
Florida Legislature ‘will get it done’:Gov. DeSantis says Florida Legislature will pass ‘constitutional carry’ gun law
What does constitutional carry mean?
Under constitutional carry legislation, a person who legally owns a firearm may carry it in public, visibly or concealed, at almost any time or place, without training, registration or government licensing. Simple as that.
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Under constitutional carry laws, can anyone carry a gun wherever they want to?
Not quite. And the laws vary from state to state.
First and foremost, you must be legally allowed to carry a firearm under state law. Age, criminal history, location, residency and other restrictions may still apply.
Some states may keep restrictions on carrying firearms or other weapons other than handguns and may ban firearms at locations such as polling places while voting is taking place, government meetings open to the public, county courthouses, etc. Private property owners still may choose to ban firearms on their property.
There are federal laws against carrying firearms, even with a permit, in federal courthouses, buildings, the sterile area of an airport, national cemeteries, military bases unless you are on-duty military police or have exemptions, post offices, Native American reservations or tribal colonies, and other federally controlled locations.
Some states with constitutional carry laws also may allow businesses, healthcare facilities or educational institutions to limit firearms on the premises, although supporters have pushed for limiting public universities from restricting firearms on campuses on the grounds that public possession of firearms could help stop a mass shooting.
Constitutional carry also has been called “unrestricted carry” and “permitless carry.”
Is ‘constitutional carry’ the same as ‘open carry’?
No, although there is overlap. A quick primer:
“Open carry” means you can publicly carry a legally owned firearm that is kept in plain sight or partially concealed, usually holstered. Some states require a separate permit or license for this, most do not. Three states — California, Illinois and Florida — currently ban open carry.
“Concealed carry” means you can publicly carry a legally owned firearm that is hidden from view. Concealed carry is currently legal in all 50 states but some states, such as Florida, require special training and a license before it is allowed.
“Constitutional carry” allows both, without permits, licensing or training.
Is ‘constitutional carry’ the same as ‘Right-to-Carry’?
Right-to-Carry (RTC) laws refer to the entire class of legislation allowing legal firearm owners to carry concealed weapons, either without a permit or with one in states with requirements for them. “Constitutional carry” laws would be the same idea taken a step further and has become the favored term in discussions of concealed carry laws, possibly because it’s catchier and speaks more directly to the motivations behind the laws.
Constitutional carry has been a prime priority for the National Rifle Association, said group spokesperson Lars Dalseide.
“NRA believes this is an important piece of legislation as Americans should not have to pay fees and taxes and get a license to exercise their right to self-defense and to defend their loved ones outside their home,” Dalseide told USA Today.
What are Florida’s gun laws now?
Florida does not require a permit or license to buy a gun and does not require registration — you must be a resident 21 or older unless you are a law enforcement or corrections officer or are in military service — but you do need a license to carry a concealed weapon. There are restrictions on gun ownership for people convicted of a felony, dishonorably discharged, adjudicated mentally defective or involuntarily committed to treatment, convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or other conditions recognized by the state.
There is no limit on the number of firearms you can own or buy in a single transaction. Background checks are required and there is a three-day waiting period, although individual counties and cities may extend them up to five days.
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Openly carrying a gun is illegal in Florida. It’s a second-degree misdemeanor with a $500 fine or a maximum of 60 days in jail, with exemptions for law enforcement, corrections officer, game wardens, forest officials, military, guards, members of firearms clubs while at gatherings or traveling to and from them, people on firing ranges, people who manufacture firearms while they’re on the job, and anyone “engaged in fishing, camping, or lawful hunting or going to or returning from a fishing, camping, or lawful hunting expedition,” according to Florida Statute 790.25, which has led to some Second Amendment supporters organizing gatherings of armed fishermen in highly public places.
Apart from that, Florida is one of only five states that do not allow guns to be carried visibly, even for those holding licenses, according to U.S. Concealed Carry. (State law provides exceptions for legal hunters.)
You may not currently carry a concealed weapon in Florida without a state license.
How would gun laws change in Florida if a constitutional carry bill passes?
There isn’t a current bill in action but the latest one, last year’s “Carrying of Firearms Without Licenses,” bill (HB 103) sponsored by Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, provides a suggestion. Under that bill:
- All open and concealed carry for all legally-owned firearms would be allowed. The clause against brandishing, or intentionally displaying a firearm in an “angry or threatening manner” and not necessarily in self-defense, would be removed.
- The word “concealed” would be struck from every restriction; no license would be required to carry a concealed, legal firearm. Licenses would only be issued for residents wishing to travel to states requiring them.
- Areas permitted to restrict firearm possession would be limited, and the penalty for carrying a concealed firearm into restricted locations would drop from a third-degree felony to a second-degree misdemeanor.
- The restriction on concealed weapons other than handguns in private conveyances would be removed.
- Restrictions on nonresidents to carry a firearm, openly or concealed, would be dropped, subject to remaining state gun laws. Florida would recognize any and all weapons and firearms licenses from all other states.
What happened to last year’s constitutional carry law in Florida?
“This is the single most important bill that we can do to secure the rights of our citizens here in the state of Florida from the corrupt Biden regime,” Sabatini said in January when the Seminole County Republican Executive Committee passed a resolution in support.
The bill had the backing of a coalition of gun rights groups, a federation of young Republicans (aged 18-40) clubs that count 700 members statewide, and the Republican Executive Committees in four counties. But Sabatini is a frequent critic of the Legislature’s Republican leadership, which may explain why that bill stalled in committee along with all of the rest of the legislation for which he was the main sponsor.
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Why do people support constitutional carry laws?
Supporters believe that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not allow for any restrictions on gun rights, including the right to carry or bear arms. They believe that criminals would not abide by regulations in any event, and such restrictions only hinder a citizen’s ability to defend themselves. Open and concealed carry, they argue, would result in less gun violence as criminals would avoid areas where people were armed.
“Half the country now rightfully recognizes the fundamental right to carry a firearm for self-defense as enshrined in our Constitution — as opposed to a government privilege that citizens must ask permission to exercise,” said Jason Ouimet, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, in a recent statement.
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Why do people oppose constitutional carry laws?
Opponents believe that reduced restrictions on firearms will lead to even more gun violence in a country marked with regular mass shootings and high suicide rates, and fear that fewer regulations will result in more firearms getting to people who would not otherwise be legally allowed to own them. They generally believe that the U.S. Constitution clearly specifies “a well-regulated militia” in the Second Amendment, not completely unrestricted gun ownership, and some believe that the Founders did not anticipate the much deadlier weaponry available now.
“This is absurd political pandering from the Governor of a state that has experienced some of the worst mass shootings in our country’s history and in a nation where we have the highest rates of gun violence in the world,” said Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is running for her party’s gubernatorial primary nomination to run against DeSantis in November. “It’s an insult to the memories and families of every victim of gun violence. We should be passing laws to prevent gun violence and working to fix our state’s affordable housing crisis, not creating chaos to score political points.”
Even some Second Amendment supporters are wary of vague or wide-open constitutional carry legislation. Florida GOP Chair and State Sen. Joe Gruters said he might support constitutional carry, but thought the image of assault weapons openly carried on the beach might “adversely affect Florida’s tourism economy.”
What does the general public think of gun restriction laws?
Recent polls show support for tougher gun laws remains high: More than two-thirds of Americans support stricter gun laws, according to a 2021 poll by USA TODAY/Ipsos. While 9 out of 10 Democrats support tougher restrictions, only a third of Republicans share that view.
“There may be a sense among gun rights supporters that now is the time to go on the offensive,” said Eric Ruben, an assistant professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law and co-author of a Second Amendment lawsuit study. “Now, there are more (judicial) opinions getting written … that are conveying a broader view of gun rights.”
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Which states allow constitutional carry?
As of this writing, 25 states either allow legal firearm owners to carry a loaded, concealed firearm without a permit or have just passed legislation to allow it that will soon go into effect: Alabama (effective January 1, 2023), Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana (effective July 1, 2022), Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota (residents only; concealed carry only), Ohio (effective June 13, 2022), Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee (handguns only), Texas, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
The rest, including Florida, require some form of permit to possess a weapon in public places.
Texas constitutional carry:Gov. Greg Abbott signs bill to allow Texans to carry handguns without a permit
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Tennessee constitutional carry:Tennessee Legislature passes bill to allow most adults to carry handguns without a permit
Contributors: James Call, Capital Bureau; Janine Zeitlin, Fort Myers News-Press; Gary White, The Ledger; Tyler Vazquez, Florida Today; Matthew Brown, USA Today
C. A. Bridges is a Digital Producer for the USA TODAY Network, working with multiple newsrooms across Florida. Local journalists work hard to keep you informed about the things you care about, and you can support them by subscribing to your local news organization. Read more articles by Chris here and follow him on Twitter at @cabridges