Florida House moves ahead with guns-in-church bill

click to enlarge Florida House moves ahead with guns-in-church bill
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A controversial effort to allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to bring guns to religious institutions that share property with schools advanced through the House Education Committee on Thursday.

The measure (HB 1437) would allow religious institutions to authorize people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns at any location “owned, rented, leased, or lawfully used” by the institution.

Opponents have argued the measure would also allow people licensed to carry concealed weapons to bring the guns to public schools that make space available to religious groups, even when the religious groups aren't meeting.

Prior to the committee's 15-1 vote in favor of the measure, Rep. Jayer Williamson, R- Pace, said religious institutions will decide what is best for them.

“If they want to come up with a security team, they can do that,” said Williamson, the bill's sponsor. “If they want to allow any concealed-weapons permit holder, they set the parameters.”

State law generally allows people to carry concealed weapons at religious institutions, but it bars them from school properties.

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While proponents have pushed the effort for several years, the measure has drawn extra attention in the wake of several church and synagogue shootings across the nation and a rise in anti-Semitism. Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, said that, while he had concerns about the legislation, its intent is good.

“Some of my very good friends are pastors of churches that have $50,000 in cash in the collection plate on Sundays, so I know that is a risk,” Antone said. “And then I don’t want to be a hypocrite, because sometimes and oftentimes I accidentally carry my gun to church.”

But Beth Dumond, a Tallahassee-based volunteer with Moms Demand Action, argued the presence of guns on campus increases the risk of school shooting violence.

“Our concern is that this doesn’t differentiate between when religious institutions are allowing concealed-carry permit holders to have guns on church properties that also house schools,” Dumond said. “Our concern is that this bill does not indicate that it is OK for churches to have security plans in place during church services and church activities while not indicating that it is still not OK to have those things happening while school-related activities are taking place.”

State law generally allows people to carry concealed weapons at religious institutions, but it bars being armed on school properties. Florida law, however, does allow law enforcement, school resource officers and individuals trained as school "guardians" to carry guns on school campuses.

The House proposal lacks a Senate companion bill.

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