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Get the latest coverage of the 2023 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Florida requires safety training to carry a gun. That's set to change

Handguns for sale at Bass Pro Shop in Tallahassee on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023.
Anna Jones
/
WFSU Public Media
Handguns for sale at Bass Pro Shop in Tallahassee on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023.

House Speaker Paul Renner unveiled a bill last week that would allow people to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.

People who carry concealed weapons in Florida must complete a gun safety course, but that could change under a bill that has the backing of the state's Republican leaders.

“Central to the idea of freedom is the right that we can defend ourselves against physical attack, as well as defend those that we love,” said State House Speaker Paul Renner last week after unveiling a proposed measure to allow "constitutional carry," which would eliminate the requirement of a permit to carry a concealed firearm.

"All aspects of that permit would go away."

The bill — HB 543 — would eliminate permitting requirements to carry a concealed weapon. Those include completion of a gun safety course and an attestation that the concealed carry permit is desired for lawful self defense.

If enacted, it would take effect on July 1.

At a press conference announcing the legislation, Renner expressed confidence that the measure wouldn't pose a serious threat to public safety. "Anybody that's a gun owner and uses guns knows that safety comes first."

Republicans are determined to enact "constitutional carry" this year

Gov. Ron DeSantis has been increasingly vocal about his support for eliminated concealed carry permitting requirements since last spring. At the time, he said he wasn't sure if there were enough votes to get it through the legislature, but now Republicans have a supermajority in both chambers and the governor's backing.

"I’ve said for years I would sign," DeSantis said during a press conference in May. Speaking to reporters last week, he said his position hadn't changed.

Right now, carrying a concealed gun in public without being licensed is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. The only exception is for those who are under a mandatory evacuation order.

The bill's first committee hearing is this week. The Constitutional Rights, Rule of Law & Government Operations Subcommittee will take up the measure on Tuesday at 2 p.m. All committee meetings are open for public comment.

“Removing the training to make you a competent firearm carrier doesn’t sound like a great public safety measure to me," said Rep. Christine Hunschofsky (D-Parkland). "This alone is a step in the wrong direction."

Democrats have also taken issue with the term "constitutional carry."

"This is not constitutional carry," Hunschofsky said. "This is untrained carry."

What kind of gun safety training is required?

Under current law, a certificate showing completion of a state-approved gun safety course — with an instructor certified by the state or the National Rifle Association — is required to get a concealed carry permit. Courses range from those offered by law enforcement agencies to hunter safety courses offered by the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to courses taken at private shooting ranges.

Students aren't tested, and the amount of training and the quality of instruction varies, depending on where the course is offered.

“The state kind of leaves it up to the instructor to determine that," said JD Johnson, who co-owns Talon Range & Tactical Outfitters, a shooting range and gun store outside Tallahassee.

Talon Range offers different levels of training courses, including a gun safety course that satisfies the permit requirement. "We have a lot of people come to us because they feel the need to carry and they want to defend themselves, so they have to go through this process."

At Talon, course needed for a permit takes eight hours on a Saturday and involves a review of the state’s self-defense and concealed-carry laws, as well as a couple of hours of shooting, Johnson said.

“Our instructors will basically say, ‘Yes, this person is able to hit the target, they’re able to safely handle the gun, manipulate the gun, draw the gun from the holster, put the gun back in the holster safely,'” he said.

Johnson says he expects his business to take a hit if the state does away with mandatory training to carry a gun. "It's going to hurt our business," he said. "There's no question about it."

However, he says he supports "constitutional carry." "Every citizen has the right to have a gun and to defend themselves," Johnson said. "That’s one of the principles that this country was founded upon."

Democrats propose stricter gun laws, but aren't hopeful

Democrats have filed several bills aimed at increasing gun safety, including mandatory background checks on ammunition sales and a requirement for gun sellers to share pamphlets about current self defense and weapons laws and how to safely store and secure a firearm.

Criminal background checks are required to buy a firearm, but that doesn't apply to individual vendors who often sell to customers at gun shows.

Democrats are also proposing a ban on semi-automatic and automatic weapons or "assault weapons" and large capacity magazines in Florida.

“In this climate, particularly, where you just saw the House Speaker stand up and push permit-less carry, I don’t think these bills will get a hearing, and that’s a shame," said Rep. Dan Daley (D-Parkland) who's sponsoring Jaime's Law, which would require criminal background checks on ammunition sales. It's named after Jaime Guttenberg, who lost her life in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at age 14. "That is a political game that's putting Floridians at risk, and this is just another example of it."

As for House Speaker Paul Renner, he'll support "legislation that expands rights for law-abiding citizens while holding criminals accountable for threatening the safety of our communities," wrote Andres Malave, Renner's communications director, in an email. "We will look at the merit of the language, not the letter, ‘R’ or ‘D’, behind the sponsor."

Public opinion favors stricter gun laws, including in Florida

Twenty-five states have passed legislation allowing people to carry guns in public without a permit, but nationwide polling suggests most Americans oppose permit-less carry laws.

A recent joint-survey by the University of South Florida and Florida International University shows most of the state’s voters want stricter gun laws, including universal background checks.

Rep. Christine Hunschofsky says she and other Democrats haven't heard from many constituents calling for an end to mandatory training to carry a gun.

"There is not a groundswell to remove training from those who wish to conceal carry, and that's among gun owners, as well," Hunschofsky said. "We're not talking about opposing gun ownership. We're saying, 'Gun owners, with rights comes responsibilities.'"

Copyright 2023 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Florida requires safety training to carry a gun. That's set to change

Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.