In the next couple of weeks, the Florida Senate will consider a bill (SB296 and HB209) that, as passed by the House, will allow unlicensed individuals to carry firearms during evacuation orders declared by the governor, or during emergencies declared by local officials.
If you support this bill on principle, I can understand that, but let me illustrate some scenarios for you that may change your mind.
Say, for example, a hurricane is approaching the Alabama/Florida border. The governor declares an emergency, and an evacuation is ordered in Escambia County. In response, a resident packs up and evacuates to his family's home in Gulfport. The way this bill is written, that person would be allowed to carry a concealed firearm in Gulfport for the duration of the emergency in the panhandle. Meanwhile, those who live here and who have not been subject to evacuation, would not be allowed to carry a gun.
Interestingly, the law would not only apply to state emergencies declared by the governor. The House version would extend the same privilege to those complying with orders issued by local officials. So if the mayor of Key West declares an emergency due to civil unrest, we could have Key West evacuees here in Gulfport lawfully carrying concealed firearms.
I haven't even mentioned the scariest thing. What if the emergency is here? Imagine if we have a riot in Pinellas County and the sheriff declares an emergency. At that moment, everyone in the entire county, even those in the company of the rioters (felons, etc. excluded of course), would be allowed to carry a concealed gun. Wow.
There is a reason we issue permits to people before they can carry concealed firearms. We check backgrounds, get fingerprints and photos, and ensure the people understand the laws and demonstrate proficiency with their weapons. Eliminating these safeguards, particularly in times of civil unrest, is a dangerous way to go.
I support the right of the people to keep and bear arms, but I think the current laws are sufficient. As it stands now, everyone already has the right to transport guns in their cars or carry them on their own private property, for example.
At the very least, the Senate has to address some important issues before it agrees to pass this bill. We need to be clear on the time and geographic limits that apply to evacuations, and we need to exclude the provision that applies to riots and affrays. I encourage you to contact your senator (it's Jeff Brandes for Gulfport residents) and ask him or her to insist on reasonable changes to this bill before approving its passage as law.