Skip to comments.Police, chamber sergeants prepare for policy allowing guns in Florida Capitol
Posted on 10/12/2011 4:20:31 AM PDT by marktwain
TALLAHASSEE Until less than two weeks ago, someone with a concealed weapon's permit wishing to enter Florida's Capitol with a gun had to leave it in a lock box at the door.
That policy, like hundreds of local ordinances limiting where gun owners could bring their weapons, may have been illegal, but that all ended Oct. 1, when a new state law went into effect affirming that only the Legislature can enact laws regulating guns.
As cities and counties statewide scrambled to make sure they were in compliance or face a $100,000 fine, the Capitol Police instituted a new policy this month for the building that holds the governor's office and the chambers of the state House and Senate.
Now, gun owners with concealed weapons permits can tote their firearms into the marbled halls as long as they show their concealed weapon's licenses and photo identification when they enter the building. But they can't take their guns into "any meeting of the Legislature or a committee thereof" and they'll be given a written notice of that when they come in the building.
The new policy gave pause to some lawmakers and lobbyists and was no big deal to others.
"If you think there's somebody in there that might be carrying a gun and it's a red-meat issue, will it influence a member's ability to speak freely and not potentially provoke somebody from using a gun? That's got to be in the back of a lot of people's minds," said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. "Who knows what's the trigger for someone to do something bad?"
But Marion Hammer, Florida lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said, "This is no big deal. They finally decided apparently that they're going to do it right."
Hammer, who pushed the law this spring, said that concealed weapons permit holders, who must be fingerprinted and pass background checks, know the rules.
"You're dealing with law abiding people," she said. "I'm sure if they come in through the door, they show their permit. They show their ID, security is going to inform them these are places you cannot go and they're not going to do it."
Existing law already forbade gun owners from bringing weapons into any public meeting where lawmakers are gathered, and that was not changed by the new statute approved by lawmakers this spring and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.
Asked about its policy for ensuring that people with guns do not take them into meetings of lawmakers, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman Heather Smith said, "While we do not have a written protocol that addresses this specifically, Capitol Police works with the sergeants at arms of each chamber on an ongoing basis to share information as appropriate to ensure the safety of the Capitol's employees and visitors."
The FDLE oversees the Capitol Police. The House and Senate sergeants-at-arms staff man the doors to committee meetings and House and Senate chambers.
Those wishing to sit in the public galleries for a session of the full House or Senate will have to pass through a metal detector and relinquish their gun if they have one, House Sergeant at Arms Ernie Sumner said. They will be referred to the Capitol Police, who have lock boxes where the weapons can be secured.
But metal detectors will not be used at committee rooms. Sumner said the Capitol Police will provide him and his Senate counterpart, Don Severance, with a description of anyone legally entering the building with a concealed weapon. Then, if it looks like someone who might be carrying a gun is headed into a committee room, Sumner said his staff will remind them about the law prohibiting weapons in places where lawmakers are meeting.
"We're not going to anything any different than what we've been doing but we'll just be very vigilant. If we have a suspicion we might ask someone," he said.
But some lawmakers raised concerns that the new procedure could allow someone with a gun to enter a committee room.
"In most of those committee rooms it's tough to clear the room very quickly," Pafford said. "You hate to play that out in your mind."
They and lobbyists also wondered if the fear that visitors may be pistol-packing could have a chilling effect on heated debate.
"The thought always crosses your mind, especially with what happened in Arizona," said Jose Gonzalez, a lobbyist for Associated Industries of Florida who has been involved in controversial issues including immigration, smoking and gun rights.
Gonzalez, who is on the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists board of directors, said he trusts the Capitol Police and chamber sergeants-at-arms to keep the Capitol safe, "but their job, in my opinion, just got a lot harder."
Sen. Greg Evers, a co-sponsor of the new law, said he's not worried about Floridians legally bringing guns into the Capitol.
"I don't have a problem with it at all. It's just folks exercising their Second Amendment right," Evers, R-Baker, said. "I do not feel that the folks exercising their Second Amendment right will in any way impede folks from utilizing their First Amendment rights."
Why does it never occur to these moron reporters writing about all this speculation of what the effect might be to report the facts on what has happened in the many states where there is NO restriction on guns in any room of the state capitol?
Does this mean I can shoot guns on my own property now? Even if our local city, county etc. has their own rules?
Darned good question -- I wish I could answer. If you or anyone else here finds out, please let me know!