State Legislature Votes To Close Loophole In New Gun Law
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ The Florida House and Senate each voted unanimously Monday to close a loophole in a new gun law that apparently lets people carry weapons openly in public without fear of being arrested.
The bills differed slightly, which means the issue will have to be addressed again Tuesday.
″We’ve received a lot of bad publicity on this matter,″ said Rep. Ron Silver. He said national news coverage of the loophole had hurt the state’s image as a tourist mecca.
The new law was intended to make it easier to get licenses to carry concealed weapons after Oct. 1. But in passing the law last spring, the Legislature also struck down a 1893 law that forebade open carrying of guns.
The Senate voted 34-0 and the House voted 105-0 to reinstate the 1893 law. The House version contained a provision that would force the 1988 Legislature to readdress the issue, while the Senate bill did not.
Even though the chief supporters of the new concealed weapons law agreed to reinstate that 1893 statute, they made it clear they didn’t believe a problem existed with the law.
Rep. Ron Johnson, the prime sponsor of the concealed weapons law, said he disagreed with the contention of Attorney General Bob Butterworth and other state attorneys that the loophole in the new law would allow bands of armed thugs to roam the streets unrestrained.
The state attorneys said that under the current law, they would not be able to prosecute if someone carried a loaded gun into a public place.
But Johnson said extensive media coverage of the problem had created a public 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 o 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.″