TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Too extreme, too weak— or just right? A fiery debate over Florida's permitless carry bill occurred Thursday.
Advocates on all sides clashed in Tallahassee as lawmakers again advanced the controversial loosening of state gun laws.
Inside a small church near the state Capitol, more than 100 with Moms Demand Action gathered to denounce the GOP-backed bill. It allows legal gun owners to carry concealed in the state without the currently required permit and training.
"We need our lawmakers to understand permitless carry does not make anyone safer," Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, said. "Allowing more guns in more places with no questions and no training will lead to more gun violence."
The group then marched to the Capitol, chanting and calling for lawmakers to vote down the bill, which also contains numerous efforts to strengthen school safety. This includes things like increased training for law enforcement and better threat sharing amongst Florida schools.
The legislation has become one of the most controversial measures of the year. Republicans have repeatedly said they're trying to eliminate a government permission slip to access the Second Amendment.
However, new polling from the University of North Florida suggests registered voters in Florida don't want the change. About 77% of those polled said they were strongly or somewhat opposed. Only 21% were in support.
There's even dissent among backers of permitless carry. Several in Thursday's Senate Fiscal Policy committee meeting called for the bill to be upgraded to full open carry. The governor has said he'd support it, but GOP House and Senate leaders aren't on board at the moment.
"It begs the question that if the governor cannot get a very friendly legislature to add open carry to this bill— then how do we think he's going to do trying to convince Congress to act on anything if he becomes president?" Matt Collins, a Central Florida resident, asked the committee. "If open carry isn't added to this bill, it shows the political impotence of part of Gov. DeSantis."
Even so, senators approved the measure with one Republican, Sen. Ileana Garcia, R-Miami, joining Democrats in opposition.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, also didn't sound keen on morphing the bill when we asked him about adding an open carry provision shortly after the meeting.
"We are taking a monumental step in codifying our Second Amendment rights,” said Collins. “That is what we’re focused on — bringing back those God-given, constitutionally upheld rights to defend ourselves.”
The Senate's version of the bill is next scheduled to head to the full upper chamber. The House bill is also ready for floor discussion and debate.
With GOP supermajorities in both chambers, it remains likely the policy will reach DeSantis. Meanwhile, opponents plan to push back hard in the coming weeks. Parkland students with March For Our Lives have scheduled a Tallahassee rally for March 22.