Guns can now be carried on church grounds if the religious institution allows it, regardless if there’s a school there.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday signed a “guns in church” bill that has been debated for years but reached his desk for the first time after this Session. Lawmakers in support of the change characterized the bill as one about property rights rather than gun rights.
But critics say a lack of notification, including to the schools and school districts who may be leasing space from religious institutions, makes the law a step in the wrong direction and a troubling reversal of school safety measures out in place after the 2018 Parkland shooting.
The bill (HB 259) makes an exception to a prior law to allow 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.”
Sen. Joe Gruters, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, said this effectively closes a loophole in the law. He noted during Session that such religious institutions by default have the right to say if guns are allowed on property and who can carry them, but a restriction forbidding guns of any school properties took that away from church properties that happened to have a school on location. Rep. Jayer Williamson, a Pace Republican, sponsored the House Bill.
The law just signed still allows churches and other religious institutions from barring guns on property.
“We’re going to leave that up to the religious institutions on how they’re going to notify the people who attend the school,” Gruters said. “The property owner will be able to decide what the policy is.”
And it will also be up to the property owner when and if to tell tenants leasing space on property what the policy is on guns on the site.
Many Democrats in opposition to the bill say it wasn’t a loophole but a feature to keep guns off school properties.
“This house took a stand after Parkland. It took a stand and said, our students should be kept safe. It was the right thing to do. I supported that,” said Broward Democratic Rep. Joseph Geller. “The title of this is ‘at religious institutions.’ That’s really not where there’s any question here. But if you’re a third grader, and you’re sitting in a school, on your school grounds, in your classroom, on school time, you have a right to know that you’re sitting there safe. Every student does in every school.”
The National Rifle Association and other gun-rights supporters had backed similar legislation in the past, but it had not gotten through the Legislature.
Still, some gun rights groups said the bill did not go far enough.
“While this bill is a small step in the right direction, Florida is being left behind on gun rights.” said Matt Collins, director of legislation for Florida Gun Rights. “Sadly Republicans in this state, including Governor Ron DeSantis, are not leading on the Second Amendment.”
That group says Florida should ensure the state recognizes the right for all citizens to carry firearms where there choose.
Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.