Gov. Rick Scott signed into law on May 22 a measure that allows Floridians to carry concealed firearms without a license in the event of a mandatory evacuation during a state of emergency.
Under SB 290, introduced by Rep., Sen. Jeff Brandes, a person who can lawfully possess a firearm may carry a concealed weapon without a license for up to 48 hours after a mandatory evacuation is ordered. The bill also grants the governor the right to extend the time limit if necessary.
The new law is a revised version of Brandes’s failed bill from last year, SB 296, which permitted unlicensed concealed carry in an evacuation without a time limit.
Despite the added time limit, SB 290 leaves many questions unanswered.
Previously, gun owners without a concealed carry permit had to transport their firearms in secure containers or leave them behind. The new law gives gun owners without a concealed carry permit the option to take their firearms with them.
“It’s very tempting for looters and persons who would steal from you to go after your home if they know that you’ve had to leave valuable firearms behind,” said Glenn Jones, owner of Lawful Defense Gun & Transfers, a gun store in Gainesville.
The new legislation, however, does not specify whether shelters must accept evacuees’ firearms, or provide secure containers in which to store them. Evacuation shelters are often located in places where firearms are already prohibited, such as public schools.
Even if they are, and lockboxes for firearms are provided to schools, the bill doesn’t specify if the secure storage should be permanent or only temporary for the duration of the emergency.
Additionally, taxpayers may shoulder the burden that comes with equipping evacuation centers with secure containers and lock boxes to hold firearms.
Art Forgey, spokesperson for the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, said the cost would depend on the number of shelters that would have to be equipped, but the money would most likely have to be footed by individual counties.
Shelters in areas where natural disasters aren’t common may still have to accommodate people from surrounding evacuation zones, according to Forgey. Such shelters will also need to make arrangements for handling firearm storage.
The new law may increase the safety of evacuees on their way to emergency shelters, Jones said. The increased likelihood of people carrying firearms during an evacuation might deter personal crimes like carjacking and muggings.
Though the law may increase the security of private citizens, the increased number of people carrying firearms on the street could affect police and other emergency responders, said Dem., Sen. Audrey Gibson of District 9. The law does not address people who have been previously denied a concealed carry permit, reasons for which could include substance abuse problems or mental health issues.
Gainesville Police Department spokesman Ben Tobias said police already expect the possibility of a firearm on anyone, so the new law would not change how police handle emergency situations.
Criminals who would have illegally carried a concealed firearm prior to the law will continue to do so, and the law will have little effect on police safety in that regard, Tobias said.
Last year’s SB 296 faced opposition from the Florida Sheriffs Association, but FSA spokesperson Matt Dunagan said the organization worked closely with Brandes to ensure the 48-hour limit was included in the new bill.
“This was not this idea of having people concealed carry,” Dunagan said. “This was the idea of someone being able to take their belongings from their home when having to evacuate and then going from point A to point B and not be the violation of the law.”
Sheriffs felt that 48 hours was sufficient time for people to move themselves out of an evacuation zone, he said.
The law’s language, however, does not specify what happens to unlicensed people carrying a concealed weapon returning home once the emergency is over.
Gibson, who voted against SB 290, said she thought the bill was inappropriate for the high-stress situations of mandatory evacuations. She said she believes the language of the bill did not take into account people returning from an evacuation shelter.
If the governor does not extend the 48-hour time limit, the bill does not specify whether people without access to a secure container would be committing a crime by carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.
Because of the lack of detail in many aspects, Gibson said that people would have to wait to see how the effects of the law turn out.
“It’s a conundrum, period, as far as I’m concerned.”