Florida Moves to Protect 2nd Amendment Rights during Emergencies

CCWIf you had to leave your home in a hurry, what would you bring?  Living in Florida, this isn’t just a conversation starter; it is part of life from June through November.

I can break the items into four categories:

  • Things that would help keep my family alive and safe
  • Things that would be expensive or difficult to replace
  • Things that have great sentimental value
  • Things that would be dangerous to leave behind.

First and foremost, I would bring items critical to keeping family members healthy and safe, like food, water, medications, clothing, a first aid kit, flashlights, a knife, small tools, important documents, and firearms.

If time and space allowed, I would bring costly or irreplaceable items, including things like jewelry, expensive but portable electronics in watertight containers, smaller, sturdy antique and custom-made items, and firearms. I would also bring things of sentimental value — photo albums, memorabilia, and family heirlooms, like my antique Smith and Wesson revolver, given to me by my father.

The fourth category is pretty small.  Is there anything that would pose a danger if looters were to get hold of it in your absence? For me, this would be firearms.

Firearms would be among the important items I would bring during a mandatory evacuation.  I would want to be able to keep my firearms secure and under my control at all times. Because I have a concealed weapons permit, I can legally carry a firearm on my person. But what about those who do not have a concealed weapons permit?

Unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon on your person in Florida is a first-degree misdemeanor, which could bring a prison term of up to one year and a fine up to $1,000. A concealed weapon can be a slingshot, a knife, metallic knuckles, a billy club, an electronic weapon  (excluding non-lethal, self-defense type), or chemical spray (excluding small, self-defense sprays).  If that weapon is a firearm, it is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine up to $5,000, or worse, if it would put you under the three-strike law.

During an emergency, when law enforcement resources are stretched to the limit, it is crucial that citizens be able to protect themselves and their families. The law allows for travel with a weapon that is securely encased, but in an emergency evacuation, you want to know your weapon is secure, close by, and ready to be used if necessary.

We have seen the chaos and the breaches of fundamental rights that can occur during an emergency. Firearms were confiscated from lawful owners in Louisiana after Katrina, even from owners with appropriate permits, even those who were in their own homes.  In states where weapons have been confiscated during emergencies, it has been a difficult and time-consuming process to get the weapons back to their original owners after the crisis has passed.

District 78 Representative Heather Fitzenhagen introduced House Bill 209 to protect the rights of Floridians during an emergency.  HB 209 provides an exemption for “a person who carries a concealed weapon or a concealed firearm on or about his person while complying with a mandatory evacuation order issued during a state of emergency declared by the Governor pursuant to Chapter 252.”

“A state of emergency and mandatory evacuation should not be made more stressful by the inability to carry one’s firearm with you without a concealed weapons permit as you comply with the Governor’s order,” said Rep. Fitzenhagen. “Reinforcing 2nd amendment rights for Floridians is my top priority.”

On February 12, 2014, Floridians grew one step closer to better 2nd amendment protection with the passage of HB 209 by the Criminal Justice Subcommittee.  It passed the House subcommittee by a vote of 12 to 1 and is now in the Economic Development and Tourism Subcommittee.  You can track this and other bills using Senate Tracker at http://www.flsenate.gov/Tracker.

House Bill 209 makes clear the intent that Floridians retain their 2nd Amendment rights in a state of emergency. If you are a Floridian who supports Representative Fitzenhagen’s efforts, contact your representative and members of the appropriate subcommittees, and let your voice be heard.  It is vital that we preserve our rights when we need them the most.

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