Sunday schools

Florida’s new bill would lift gun carrying restrictions in churches that host preschool or daycare programs

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  • [pats pockets] Let’s see: wallet, keys, 45 caliber semi-automatic pistol, extra clips, ankle holster, Good Book … yes, ready for church

A proposal that would expand the power of people to carry firearms concealed in religious institutions began moving forward in the Florida Senate on Monday.

In a party line vote, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee backed the measure (SB 498), which would allow people with concealed weapons licenses to bring firearms on properties that churches, synagogues or other religious institutions share with schools.

Florida law generally allows people to carry weapons concealed in religious institutions, but it prohibits being armed on school property. This leads to banning people from carrying firearms on property shared by religious institutions and schools.

As Bill seeks to lift that ban, homeowners could still prevent people from carrying guns, said Bill sponsor Joe Gruters, a Republican from Sarasota who also chairs the Florida Republican Party.

“The church would be allowed to do whatever it wants in terms of restrictions,” Gruters said. “They don’t have to allow people to carry guns. They might say, “Only carry guns at certain times or during certain periods or days. But essentially the church would have the same capacity that other churches have now.

Senator Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said the proposed change would create “total confusion” in school properties shared with religious institutions.

“Obviously, it has been determined that guns are just too dangerous, to be accidentally or intentionally set off,” Polsky said. “I don’t understand why, because there is a church operating on school property or has a school on site or in the basement, why all of a sudden they have to be armed.”

A similar proposal was presented to the Senate nearly three years ago, just as lawmakers’ attention shifted to a February 14, 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Since then, the proposal has held up better in the House, which approved it by 79 votes to 35 in 2019. It was not adopted by the Senate.

Longtime National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, representing the United Sportsmen of Florida, said the proposal is about restoring private property rights to churches, synagogues and other religious institutions.

“People who go to church are deprived of the same rights they have when shopping and in a business or private property of an organization or entity,” Hammer told the committee. “Just because the church has a private child care program or a private preschool program does not mean the government can take away its private property.”

The proposal drew opposition from the Florida PTA, the League of Women Voters of Florida, and the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

Highlighting massacres at religious institutions in Charleston, South Carolina and Pittsburgh, Trish Neely of the League of Women Voters of Florida suggested alternatives to address concerns about increasing violence, ranging from limiting points to ” access to the hiring of qualified security guards.

“Smart people can design smart solutions without including guns,” added Neely.

Gruters’ proposal is then expected to go to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, chaired by Senator Jason Pizzo, a Democrat from North Miami Beach.

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