The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee in the Florida Legislature on Wednesday barely passed a controversial bill that would allow people with a concealed weapons and firearms license to carry a gun openly.
House Bill 163 is being sponsored in the House by Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz. It passed with Pinellas County Republicans Chris Latvala and Kathleen Peters joining the Democrats on the committee in opposition by a 7-6 margin.
The bill now advances in the state House of Representatives. Similar legislation is moving concurrently through the Senate.
When asked about the urgency in passing the legislation, Gaetz said it was to “fully vindicate the Second Amendment, and the rights that Floridians ought to enjoy.”
Peters said she feared for spring breakers drinking and partying along Gulf Boulevard in Pinellas County. “My big issue is there isn’t a holster, [it’s] the fact that they can stick it in a bathing suit,” she said.
The bill is supported by the National Rifle Association, and opposed by the Florida Sheriffs Association. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri testified that the new law would create public safety problems. He also disputed Gaetz’ argument that 45 other states allow open carry.
“Montana is not Miami. South Dakota is not St. Pete Beach. The thought of open carry during Bike Week in Daytona, or spring break throughout the Panhandle, is very concerning,” Gualtieri said. He compared it to that fact that while the state doesn’t have a state income tax, it doesn’t mean it needs to add one.
Not every sheriff in Florida agreed with Gualtieri. Liberty County Sheriff Nick Finch said it was a Second Amendment issue, and brought up the Paris terrorist attacks in supporting the legislation. “There was a lot of dead folks in Paris because no one was armed,” he said.
“It’s important to let this bill move forward,” said Pinellas County Republican Larry Ahern, who said it was only passing through its second committee and should be voted up or down by the entire House of Representatives.