Tallahassee FL March 12 2017 A measure that would allow Florida's 1.7 million concealed-weapons permit-holders to take their guns into courthouses and temporarily store them at security checkpoints advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Senators passed SB 616 by a 5-4 vote, after Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube, the bill sponsor and chairman of the committee, pledged not to expand the bill as it continues through the legislative process.
The proposal does not go so far as to let conceal-carry permit-holders be armed within a courthouse. It would just give them the ability to continue carrying while they're coming and going from the building, so that they don't have to leave their guns in their vehicles.
Steube, an attorney, said the bill would particularly help attorneys defend themselves, as needed, while entering and leaving courthouses.
"I can't tell you how many lawyers in my district who have told me they've had their lives threatened," Steube said. For those who carry concealed, "they can't carry from the car to the courthouse, because they can't carry in the courthouse."
SB 616 has two additional committee stops in the Senate. It is among several bills Steube has filed this session to expand gun-owners' rights, but there is no House companion, which is typically necessary for a bill to have a chance at becoming law.
Eric Friday, attorney for Florida Carry Inc., advocated for the bill on Tuesday, saying he has had "two credible threats" against him by people involved with domestic violence cases, and said he carries concealed so that he can defend himself if necessary. In responding to senators, Friday said both of those individuals didn't act on their threats; he also said he had not had a gun pulled on him.
Fort Lauderdale Democratic Rep. Perry Thurston Jr. pressed Friday further on the threats made against him: "If you had had a gun, how would that have changed the situation?" That question drew scattered applause from gun-control advocates in the audience.
Tallahassee attorney Roy Blondeau, who was previously a federal prosecutor in New Orleans, told senators: "There's no need for this bill."
"Is this a huge problem in the state of Florida?" Blondeau said. "Are people being mowed down as they go from their car to the courthouse? Who are these people that are so afraid to walk from their car to the courthouse? Who are they? I don't know anyone that paranoid."
Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores -- who said she will oppose more drastic gun reforms that have been proposed, such as allowing guns on college campuses -- said this measure was for "a very limited situation" that she can support.
But she noted first she "would be hesitant" to vote for it if Steube intended or would later allow it to expand through amendments during future committee stops or on the Senate floor.
Steube pledged: "My intention is to keep this specifically directed toward courthouses."