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Jax Daily Record Monday, Jan. 25, 201612:00 PM EST

Florida Sheriffs Association against open-carry bill

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

Legislation that would change how Floridians may legally carry a firearm is ready for a vote in the state House of Representatives and still in committee in the Senate.

But a majority of members of the Florida Sheriffs Association hope the proposed law doesn’t go into effect.

The bills, HB 163 and SB 300, would make Florida the 47th state to allow people with concealed weapons permits to openly carry a firearm.

After a blind vote, which does not reveal the position of each of the state’s 67 sheriffs, the Florida Sheriffs Association came out against the proposal.

The association said the new law would make it difficult for police officers to ensure public safety.

The group also criticized the bills for omitting requirements for gun training and holstering.

Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler said he was one of 11 sheriffs who voted in favor of open carry.

He said while he supports the association’s efforts generally, they don’t always speak for individual sheriffs, as personal opinions vary from issue to issue.

“I don’t oppose the expansion of Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens and believe in our right to carry a weapon, concealed or openly,” Beseler said.

Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said law enforcement officers don’t make the law, they enforce the law.

“But I don’t have an issue with open carry at all,” he said.

Lauri-Ellen Smith, spokeswoman for Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, said Williams declined to comment on the bills still being decided by the Legislature.

The association is supporting an amendment to the legislation to provide immunity for people who accidentally or inadvertently display firearms, according to The News Service of Florida.

The amendment also would take steps such as establish a presumption that concealed-weapons license holders are lawfully carrying guns; prohibit people from being convicted if they aren’t given a chance to explain possible violations of the law; and allow the expungement of arrest records under the law if people are found not guilty or charges are dismissed.

The proposal is a “solid alternative to opening the door to full-blown open carry,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the association’s legislative chairman.

A similar proposal was offered in 2011, but the National Rifle Association rejected the amendment and likely will again.

Marion Hammer, NRA lobbyist, said legal counsel at that time advised the amendment wouldn’t prevent people with concealed-carry permits from being arrested for accidentally displaying a firearm.

“My attorney said don’t take that amendment because it won’t work,” Hammer said last week. “People have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. The Constitution doesn’t say sheriffs get to say how.”

The House’s open-carry proposal has cleared the committee process and awaits a floor vote.

The Senate bill is being considered by the Criminal Justice and Judiciary committees.

In Texas, open carry became legal Jan. 1 and so far, the major issue created by the new regulation is whether a business chooses to opt out of the law by posting a sign that bans openly carried handguns on their property.

That option is not included in the Florida legislation.

The San Antonio Current reported last week that more than 400 businesses have posted signs warning customers that openly carrying a firearm on the premises constitutes trespassing.

The list of banned locations includes banks, restaurants, retail stores, hospitals, hotels, movie theaters, office buildings, shopping malls and the Boy Scouts of America Alamo Area Council.

One business took an entirely different tack.

Texas Monthly magazine reported last week that Brooks’ Place, a Houston-area barbecue trailer open “11 a.m. until it’s gone,” offered on the day the law went into effect a 25 percent discount to customers who openly carried a firearm.

In addition, owners of the establishment ranked on the magazine’s “50 Best BBQ Joints” list in 2013 said they will continue to offer a 10 percent discount to pistol-packing diners.

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