The House is taking steps to ensure gun owners’ ability to carry a gun in church.
The bill (HB 259) originated in the Education and Employment Committee and is sponsored by Rep. Jayer Williamson.
Wednesday the bill cleared its final committee when House Judiciary Committee members voted 12-6 to advance the bill. Rep. Alexander Damon split with other Democrats with his yes vote.
Williamson said the bill is simply fixing a glitch in current law, which effectively bans armed security guards at churches that have schools on their grounds.
“I see it as a private property rights issue,” Williamson said.
Under current Florida law gun owners cannot carry their gun on school grounds. The prohibition means people who want to carry guns on church grounds that have a school attached cannot do so.
Williamson’s bill would make an exception to current law to allow properly licensed gun owners to carry their gun “on any property owned, rented, leased, borrowed, or lawfully used by a church, synagogue, or other religious institution unless the religious institution has a policy specifically prohibiting the carrying of concealed firearms.”
It would mean a church with a pre-school attached could still allow guns on its premises, which, according to the bill’s analysis, is necessary because “following a series of mass violence incidents at churches and synagogues, many religious institutions have formed volunteer church security teams”.
At Wednesday’s meeting an amendment was added to specify the bill would not limit the rights of the property owner.
But Democratic legislators pushed back, saying the bill as written was too broad.
“I do think there are some positive aspects but for me right now it’s a bit broad and it could be more explicit to property rights,” Rep. Fentrice Driskell said.
Marion Hammer spoke in support of the bill on behalf of the NRA.
The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, Florida PTA and the Florida National Organization for Women opposed the bill.
Senate companion legislation (SB 498) is in Rules Committee, the last of three committee stops.