Northeast Florida sheriffs support concealed carry bill

Published on February 1, 2023 at 4:38 pm

Two Northeast Florida sheriffs support the idea of letting residents carry concealed guns without permits, an idea championed by Republican state lawmakers including House Speaker Paul Renner of Palm Coast.

Sheriffs Michelle Cook of Clay County and Bill Leeper of Nassau County both said they would support the legislation, with some admonitions.

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Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters issued a statement saying he supports “the right of law-abiding citizens to carry firearms,” but he did not specifically address the proposal about concealed carry. Waters said only that he does not support open carry, which would allow people to display guns openly.

Waters’ brief statement said: “I support the right of law-abiding citizens to carry firearms. Law-abiding citizens have never been the problem in our community. I do not support open carry.”

Contacted by WJCT News, Waters’ staff said they would try to clarify the statement. Florida has not proposed an open carry law.

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Under current law, people who want to carry concealed weapons need to apply to the state for a license and go through a process that includes passing criminal background checks. The proposed law would institute “constitutional carry,” without the need for a license.

Under the bill, a person would need to carry valid identification when possessing a concealed firearm. Guns would still be prohibited at places such as schools and athletic events.

Renner announced the filing of House Bill 543 at a news conference Monday, flanked by some sheriffs and other officials.

Leeper, the Nassau County sheriff, said he supports the legislation and stressed its safeguards.

“A person carrying concealed without a license will still be required to obey existing laws prohibiting carrying in certain places,” Leeper said in a statement. “The bill does not affect laws relating to the purchase of a firearm and will not allow anyone prohibited from possessing a firearm to carry concealed.”

Cook, in Clay County, said the legislation would make people safer.

“Violent criminals are not applying for a state permit to carry a gun,” Cook wrote. “Removing the permitting process will assist our law-abiding community members and allow them to defend themselves and their families from anyone who intends to do them harm.

“With that being said, I strongly recommend any citizen who wishes to carry a gun to become proficient with their weapon and use an appropriate holster to secure the weapon on their person.”

Floridians currently must complete a training course in order to receive a concealed carry permit. Eliminating the permit requirement would do away with mandatory training.

“Florida led the nation in allowing for concealed carry, and that extends today as we remove the government permission slip to require a permit to exercise a constitutional right,” Renner said as he announced the measure.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has actively pushed for an end to concealed carry permitting requirements since last year. But Democrats spoke out against the legislation, including the potential loss of training.

Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, D-Coconut Creek, represents the district including Parkland, where a teenage gunman killed 17 staff and students five years ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“Removing the training to make you a competent firearm carrier doesn’t sound like a great public safety measure to me,” Hunschofsky told WFSU. “This alone is a step in the wrong direction.”

The bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee and the Constitutional Rights, Rule of Law and Government Operations Subcommittee for review, according to the Florida Senate website.

The 2023 state legislative session begins at noon April 10, with final adjournment no later than 6 p.m. June 8.

If approved by lawmakers and the governor, the measure would take effect on July 1.

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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