Florida House, Senate Vote To Close Loophole In Gun Law
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ The House and Senate approved different bills to close a loophole in a new gun law that allowed Floridians to openly carry sidearms, and legislators expected no problems reconciling the versions.
The bills passed unanimously Monday would reinstate an 1893 law forbidding the open carrying of guns that was voided by the new law. The new law was intended to make it easier to get licenses to carry concealed weapons after Oct. 1.
The Legislature decided to shut the loophole after the new law became the focus of national attention.
″We’ve received a lot of bad publicity on this matter,″ Rep. Ron Silver said Monday. News coverage of the loophole has injured the state’s image as a tourist mecca, Silver said.
The bills passed 34-0 by the Senate and 105-0 by the House differ slightly, meaning the issue will have to be addressed again by one or both chambes in the next few days. Key legislators said they didn’t expect any problem resolving the differences.
The House bill contains a provision that would require the 1988 Legislature to re-address the issue, while the Senate version doesn’t.
Although chief supporters of the concealed-weapons law agreed to reinstate the 1893 statute, they made it clear they didn’t believe a problem existed with the law.
Rep. Ron Johnson, prime sponsor of the law, said he disagreed with the contention of Attorney General Bob Butterworth that the change would allow bands of armed thugs to roam the streets unrestrained.
Prosecutors said that under current law they would be unable to bring charges against someone for carrying a loaded gun into a public place.
But Johnson said extensive media coverage of the problem had created a perception that a problem existed. He sponsored an amendment that would reinstate the stricken 1893 law with an automatic repeal provision on July 1, 1988, to give the Legislature a chance during its regular spring session to examine the problem more closely.
Johnson said he didn’t think it was right for someone to be able to strap on a sidearm and march into a department store. But he said he believed the concealed weapons law was clear enough to forbid such actions, and provided for tougher penalties for violation of the law.
At the same time, Johnson said he did not understand why a woman should not be able to carry a firearm openly if her car broke down in an isolated location.
″Why should you not be allowed to strap your firearm on to protect yourself as you walk to the service station to get gasoline for your vehicle late at night?″ Johnson asked. ″We allow individuals to protect themselves in their homes, we allow them to protect themselves in their vehicles. Simply because they’re walking down tne street, they should not be able to protect themselves? I think that’s wrong.″