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'Evacuation gun bill' dies in Florida Senate

The Florida Senate shut down a bill that would have allowed any "law-abiding" resident to carry a weapon without a permit during a mandatory evacuation.
Customers look over the last two AR-15 style rifles for sale inside the Bullet Hole gun shop in Sarasota, Fla., Jan. 16, 2013.
Customers look over the last two AR-15 style rifles for sale inside the Bullet Hole gun shop in Sarasota, Fla., Jan. 16, 2013.

The Florida Senate on Thursday killed a gun bill backed by the National Rifle Association that would have made it legal for any law-abiding resident to carry a concealed weapon without a permit in a declared mandatory evacuation. The bill would have also included expanding concealed carry without a permit during a locally declared emergency, including riots and periods of civil unrest. 

Under the law, residents can place a firearm without a permit in their vehicles during a disaster if the item is secured in places like a glove box, middle console, or trunk. If passed, though, the bill would have permitted any law-abiding Floridian to carry a concealed firearm without a license during an evacuation.

State Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, the sponsor of the bill in the House, said it is incumbent for her to work next legislative session to draft a similar bill with a format all interested parties are comfortable passing. The evacuation bill passed in the House last month.

"I'm regretting that we won't be able to ensure that Florida citizens will be able to take their firearms with them in an emergency, and I'm going to be able to fight for Second Amendment rights going forward," Fitzenhagen, a Republican, told msnbc.

Opponents of the bill voiced concern because permit holders receive training and must demonstrate a level of proficiency with a firearm. As a result, law enforcement officials are assured the individual isn't a convicted felon and doesn't have mental health issues, said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri of Pinellas County.

"Concealed-carry permit holders have a certain special status and privilege because they have been vetted, and there is some confidence that they're not people who should not have firearms," he told msnbc. "So if we just say that anybody who is not a concealed-carry permit holder but can 'lawfully possess' firearms, it opens it up to a whole bunch of people who have never touched a gun before."

The bill was also ambiguous about restrictions on the times and places where unlicensed Floridians could be legally armed in an emergency, which led Gualtieri to collaborate with Republican State Sen. Jack Latvala on an amendment to limit the exemption to 24 hours and remove the immunity once a resident reaches a place of safety either inside or outside the evacuation area.

The Senate passed the amendment on Thursday, which led the lead sponsor of the bill, State Sen. Jeff Brandes, to postpone the measure temporarily. But Friday is the last day of the current legislative session in Florida.

Supporters viewed the bill as a way to block "looters" from stealing residents' guns during natural disasters like hurricanes, Sean Caranna, executive director of Florida Open Carry, told msnbc.

But the bill would have been "very irresponsible still because during a time of chaos and dangerous circumstances to begin with, the last thing you need introduced is firearms, especially by people who are not even licensed," Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told msnbc.

Florida legislators are still considering other gun-related measures, including the "Pop Tart" bill that could reduce zero-tolerance policies by preventing students from receiving severe academic punishment for simulating a weapon with objects like their hands, clothing or food.

Additionally, a bill is pending signature by Republican Gov. Rick Scott that could grant immunity to residents who fire a warning shot or threaten to use deadly force in an alarming situation. Opponents of the bill refer to the measure as the "warning shot" legislation or as an expansion of the Stand-Your-Ground defense, which gained renewed attention last summer when a jury acquitted George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

Similar initiatives have surfaced in other states, including Georgia, where Gov. Nathan Deal last month signed a sweeping gun bill into law that allows patrons to carry firearms into bars, nightclubs, school classrooms, and certain government buildings that lack security personnel or devices.