Vincent Lahera owns a gun and has grown up around guns most of his life, but he’s apprehensive of Florida's newest gun legislation.
His father is a police officer and owns a variety of firearms that the 18-year-old UF mathematics freshman practiced shooting while growing up.
“I believe currently in Florida, we have a good number of [gun] regulations in place,” Lahera said. “I do think that completely getting rid of the requirement to have a concealed carry license could certainly be dangerous.”
Florida is on track to become the 26th state to allow citizens to carry concealed firearms without a permit after one of Alachua County’s House representatives filed the bill.
Rep. Chuck Brannan, R-Lake City, who represents the northern half of Alachua County, and Rep. Bobby Payne, R-Palatka, sponsored the Concealed Carry of Weapons and Firearms Without a License bill, HB 543, on Jan. 30. The bill, known by supporters as “constitutional carry,” would allow citizens to carry concealed firearms without a license or training.
Florida citizens have to apply for a permit that requires background checks and training to carry a concealed firearm in the state, according to Florida Statutes.
After completing the required application and training, there is a 50 to 55 day turnaround time for processing the application. The permit also must be renewed every seven years.
Lahera supports the second amendment and believes individuals should have the right to own a firearm. There should be necessary regulations in place to limit the amount of firearms that can be used for illegal activities, he said.
“I don’t believe it’s a great idea to allow individuals to conceal carry firearms without a license or permit confirming they have the necessary skills and mental stability to do so,” he said.
If the bill passes, citizens would still not be allowed to carry concealed firearms into places such as government buildings, schools or any place where firearms are prohibited by federal law.
There’s no required permit to purchase a firearm in Florida, but there are requirements that have to be met at the state and federal levels.
Citizens would still need a concealed carry permit in order to legally carry in other states without similar laws.
In Gainesville, gun violence and illegal gun ownership are prominent issues. The Gainesville Police Department seized more than one gun per day from October to December 2022. There has been a 17% increase in stolen firearms, according to the GPD quarterly report.
At a City Commission meeting Feb. 2, Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker presented a motion for the commission to declare gun violence as a city crisis and to create a gun violence committee. The motion passed unanimously.
Along with Duncan-Walker’s concerns for gun violence, Police Chief Lonnie Scott believes the bill could add another safety concern for his officers and the public.
“It causes me a little more concern because my officers are going to be encountering more people who are armed, and we don’t know what their intents are,” Scott said. “That’s going to be a dangerous situation.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in favor of the bill at an event in Tallahassee to announce next year’s budget. DeSantis will work with legislators to make the bill a reality, he said.
“We’re for constitutional carry,” DeSantis said. “I’ve urged the legislature to work, to produce good stuff and we will sign.”
Local gun experts, gun owners and residents have expressed mixed opinions on the bill.
Bennett Latimer, operations manager for gun range Shoot GTR and gun store Lawful Defense, said he thinks the education portion of being a concealed carry holder will always be important. Despite the bill, people will still seek out firearm education, he said.
Shoot GTR holds two concealed carry classes a month that last eight hours, Latimer said. The classes expand on Florida laws, go over scenarios to avoid using firearms and give students range time with instructors.
“So that [people’s] first time with a firearm isn't on [their] own,” Latimer said. “We find that there's a lot of folks that it's their first time picking up a gun.”
If the bill passes, there will still be a demand for people that want to gain more knowledge, start carrying the right way and know the laws, he said.
“People are still going to want to get their permits because they're going to want to be able to carry out of state in states that reciprocate that concealed carry permit,” Latimer said. “There's still going to be a demand for an official concealed carry permit.”
Joey Quirk, a 20-year-old UF political science senior, grew up learning about firearms from his father, who was a police officer and firearms instructor. Quirk believes everyone has the right to own a firearm and is cautiously optimistic about the bill, he said.
“It’s about finding that balance between not impeding the rights of citizens and hoping they actually are competent,” Quirk said.
A quick, mandatory training course for a concealed carry permit doesn’t ensure someone is properly trained, he said.
“I think the best case scenario would be if the bill passes and magically everyone who wants to own a firearm is also completely obsessed with the idea of training religiously and practically on it,” Quirk said. “Unfortunately, that's not the case.”
Those who are opposed to the bill believe background checks and training are necessary to ensure safety while carrying a concealed gun.
The Alachua County chapter of Moms Demand Action has been meeting with local elected officials and law enforcement to spread the word about the dangerous consequences of the bill, said Rebecca Darnell, the legislative leader of the chapter.
“The concealed carry permitting system that we currently have in place is the only sure way that we know that people that are carrying concealed loaded guns in public have been vetted,” she said.
If the bill becomes law, people who potentially have never handled a gun, don't understand the basics of gun safety and don’t know how to secure a gun will be able to walk around in public spaces with a loaded firearm, she said.
Darnell and other local volunteers plan to continue to advocate for gun safety and their opposition to the bill, even if it passes, she said.
The bill was referred to the Constitutional Rights, Rule of Law and Government Operations Subcommittee Jan. 31. The subcommittee will hear the bill Tuesday.
Contact Claire at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @grunewaldclaire.
Claire Grunewald is a fourth-year journalism major and the Spring 2024 Editor In Chief of The Alligator. In her free time, she likes to go to concerts and attempt to meet her Goodreads reading goal.