Apocalypse Now: Florida Bill Would Allow the Carrying of Firearms During Riots and Natural Disasters

Screenshot 2014-04-11 at 9.11.21 AMUnder a bill backed by the National Rifle Association and other gun groups, riots could be the newest safe haven for those carrying firearms without a permit.

HB 209, which is expected to be voted on Friday by the Florida House, would allow people with clean criminal backgrounds to conceal firearms without a permit during emergencies — including riots and civil unrest like the 1996 racial disturbances that rocked south St. Petersburg — declared by the governor or local officials.

“To allow people to go into a riot while concealing a gun without a permit is the definition of insanity,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “The bill is crazy. It’s absurd.”

Supporters of the bill say it’s intended to give gun owners the opportunity to protect their property while they are evacuating from a disaster or crisis, such as hurricanes, floods, or worse.

“We tell people to be prepared during hurricane season to take care of yourself for three days,” Florida Carry general counsel Eric Friday said earlier this month. “That means food, water, and also the ability to protect yourself because emergency services aren’t available.”

Those concealing a firearm without a permit can be punished with up to five years in prison for the third-degree felony. Under the proposed legislation, that penalty could be waived during emergencies.

Gualtieri and the Florida Sheriffs Association have been lobbying for weeks to make changes, pitting them against the sponsor of the Senate bill, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. That’s SB 296.

A key objection is that it’s not clear in the legislation when it’s okay not to have a permit for the concealed firearm. Both bills say no permit is needed for those “in the act of complying with a mandatory evacuation order during a declared state of emergency.”

If someone flees a hurricane and travels several counties over, either to a hotel or relative’s house, at what point are they still evacuating? For how long are they able to claim they are evacuating?

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