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Leon County's sheriff shares his concerns about permitless carry

(l. to r.) Second Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jack Campbell, Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell, and Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil appearing before members of the Capital Tiger Bay Club on Feb. 21.
Tom Flanigan
Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil (right) shared his views on permitless carry with members of the Capital Tiger Bay Club on Tuesday, Feb. 21.

Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil speaks with WFSU News about a Republican plan to allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit in Florida.

Republicans are fast-tracking a measure that would allow people in Florida to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

It would eliminate mandatory gun safety training, fingerprinting and fees required to get a concealed carry weapons license. A criminal background check and three-day waiting period to purchase a gun from a licensed seller would remain in place.

The permitless carry bill has the support state law enforcement groups, including the Florida Sheriffs Association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

Some sheriffs have spoken out against the measure, including Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil.

McNeil shared his views on the proposal in an interview with WFSU News, which has been edited for clarity and brevity.

As you know, permit-less carry is very likely to become the law in Florida this year as Governor Ron DeSantis has pushed for it and the bill has the support of Republicans in the legislature. The Florida Sheriffs Association is also backing the measure. Not every sheriff in the state is on board with permit less concealed carry, however, including you. Why don’t you support the measure?

First and foremost, my responsibility is to our citizens and trying to do everything we can to keep them safe, and certainly all across our country, we’ve seen the increased number of gun deaths and shootings that have taken place.

Since this legislation is about to occur, I’m speaking in past tense. And what was in place previously: One, a three-day waiting period, which I suspect hopefully is still in play, and then there was the permitting process and then there was training that was to take place and fingerprinting for identification of the person. And that gave the law enforcement community opportunities to find out more about the person. For example, if there was training that was formally required, that person would show up at some training place, a police agency or a local gun range, and those persons there who oftentimes have law enforcement background, law enforcement connections. That was an opportunity for us to get information about that person and whether or not this seemed to be a lone wolf kind of person, who's really got some issues.

I don't oppose our right to bear arms, but I do believe that the processes that were set in place were there and were working.

How do you see this affecting the way your officers respond to calls?

I'm very concerned about that. I'm always concerned anytime you're talking about carrying concealed weapons and the interactions that deputies would have in those circumstances. I'm not sure exactly how that's going to roll out. Again, we put some things in place in previous legislation that slows things down. My perception is that these speed things up, which doesn't allow us, the deputies, to get as much intelligence information about persons out there with weapons.

Before a bad guy became a bad guy with a gun, oftentimes they were good guys with guns. And so that dynamic changes a little bit for me and for my deputies out in the field. But it's yet to be known exactly what kind of impacts it's going to have.

Is it a concern that more guns will be circulating in the community if permitless carry is enacted?

That is one of the concerns, obviously, the volume that could be there. But we understand, again, every citizen has the right to carry a weapon. But the issue sort of becomes, you have more persons out there who we have not vetted in any fashion or form.

What do you think should change about the state's gun laws, if anything?

This issue could've been resolved, from my perspective, by just lifting the permitting fee. It all boils down to the fact that bearing arms is a constitutional right, and persons who believe they have that right believe they should not have to pay a fee to carry a weapon. Whether that's right, wrong or different, I believe we could've merely dropped the fee, and kept all the other measures in place.

Valerie Crowder is a freelance journalist based in Tallahassee, Fl. She's the former ATC host/government reporter for WFSU News. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.
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