Senators on Friday gave the final committee nod to a proposal that allows concealed weapons permit holders to carry their guns openly.
The Senate Rules Committee, led by Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, passed SB 234 by a vote of 7-5, with Republican Sen. Dennis Jones of Seminole breaking from party lines. Its sponsor, Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, says the intention is to protect people who accidentally expose their weapons via strong winds that lift up shirts or holes in pockets.
Sen. JD Alexander, who voted for the bill, said he had no problem protecting truly inadvertent exposure by permit holders, but lawmakers should not go beyond that. If the bill is not "crystal clear that it's just a clarification," then Alexander said he will ultimately vote against it.
Law enforcement officers have made no secret of their opposition to the bill or their distaste for the "strong winds" argument. Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats and Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office Majs. Ken Davis and Ronald Hartley were among those who spoke against the idea Friday.
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Visible guns would alarm and intimidate tourists in the state, Coats said, which is why most sheriffs allow deputies to openly carry their weapons only if they are in uniform.
"I just don't see why there's a reasonable or even a legitimate need for this bill," he said.
Former NRA president Marion Hammer said while there may be no examples of prosecutions for accidental exposure, law enforcement officers have made arrests for it. Law-abiding permit holders going to jail for accidental exposure "is just nonsense," she said.