Guns in churches bill teed up for final House vote

guns church
Supporters argue it's not a gun bill, rather a property rights issue.

The House is ready to vote on a measure allowing gun owners to carry a gun in church even if a school is on premise.

The bill (HB 259) originated in the Education and Employment Committee and is sponsored by Rep. Jayer Williamson.

During the second reading Thursday, no amendments were offered. Questions took less than four minutes.

Williamson said the bill simply would fix a glitch in current law, which effectively bans armed security guards at churches that have schools on their grounds.

“While it will always be painted as a gun rights bill, this is a private property rights issue,” Williamson said.

Williamson highlighted the fact that under the bill the owner of the property could still decide not to allow guns on the premises.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing, an amendment was added to specify the bill would not limit the rights of the property owner. In the case of a property that is rented, the renter would not be considered the property owner.

In committee, several Democrats split off to support the legislation, but most still took issue with the bill saying they’re uncomfortable with guns being in a school regardless of the safety of a church. Others said the language in the bill is 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.

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 preschool 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.”

On the House floor, Williams held steady on his position.

“I see it as a private property rights issue,” Williamson said.

The National Rifle Association has expressed support for the bill.

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, Florida PTA and the Florida National Organization for Women have expressed opposition to the bill.

Senate companion legislation (SB 498) is in Rules Committee, the last of three committee stops.

Haley Brown

Haley Brown covers state government for FloridaPolitics.com. Previously, Haley covered the West Virginia Legislature and anchored weekend newscasts for WVVA in Bluefield, W.Va. Haley is a Florida native and a graduate of the University of Florida. You can reach her at [email protected]



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