Joe Gruters carries guns in churches bill through second Senate committee stop
Joe Gruters and Jason Pizzo debate who calls concealed carry shots.

A Senate committee blessed the legislation, but not before serious debate.

Legislation that would allow church-goers to carry guns into places of worship, even when there’s a school on the property, shot forward in the Senate Tuesday. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee reported favorably on the legislation.

Bill sponsor Sen. Joe Gruters has billed the issue as a matter of property rights more than gun rights. He stressed property owners will maintain the authority to determine whether to allow firearms on premises.

“The property owner will be able to make any type of decision on policies and time frames as they so choose,” he said.

Right now, Florida law allows most religious institutions to decide if guns may be brought into the place of worship, unless there’s a school on property. The bill would change state law that now forbids weapons on properties with an attached school, public or private.

Senate Criminal Justice Chair Jason Pizzo, a rare Democrat in charge of a committee in the GOP-majority chamber, scheduled the bill after it cleared the Judiciary Committee last month.

But he also offered a variety of amendments. One would address a concern from multiple Democrats that the legislation supersedes all other laws governing guns.

That includes, by Pizzo’s reading, giving a church that leases space from another property owner the right to decide if guns can be carried there.

“This says, anything else above this section of law, throw it out the window,” he said. “Hold a church in a bar and you can carry a gun.”

Pizzo offered an amendment that would give the property owner veto-power over a church’s decision if the church doesn’t own the land. He stated that he would have voted for the bill had the amendment passed, but it did not.

Several individuals expressed concern that schools leasing space to churches, a frequent occurrence in Pizzo’s home of Miami-Dade County, could effectively force schools to allow guns on campus.

Pizzo, ahead of the vote, leaned in on a number of issues about where contracts end and church owners’ rights begin. Gruters believes the legislation allows churches to not just make blanket decisions on allowing guns or not, but to decide who can and cannot bring a gun on campus.

That’s an important distinction, Pizzo said, as synagogues in South Florida must secure property against hate crimes, but also most contend with swastika-waving White nationalists who also may try to bring concealed weapons into churches.

The committee also debated the potential of requiring signs that making clear owners allow guns on property, but an amendment about that also went down amid concerns it would leave schools without signage as soft targets.

“It would make anyone without a sign more vulnerable to mass murderers,” said NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer.

Notably, Gun Owners of America argued the bill didn’t do enough to protect the rights of gun owners and argued the Senate should strip any ability of a property owner to curtail the right to bear arms.

But groups like the League of Women Voters labeled it reckless to open the door to allowing concealed weapons in private preschools on church property.

Rep. Jayer Williamson, a Pace Republican, sponsored the House companion (HB 259), which will be heard Wednesday by the House Education and Employment Committee.

Gruters’ legislation heads next to the Senate Rules Committee.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704