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House Passes Gun Evacuation Bill

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The Florida House passed a bill Thursday allowing gun owners to take their weapons during mandatory emergency evacuations, sending it to Gov. Rick Scott for approval. However, bills allowing guns on university campuses and in public schools face an uncertain future.

The evacuation bill failed last year after being mocked as the "Zombie Apocalypse bill." This year's version, SB 290, won support from some former opponents, including the Florida Sheriff's Association, after sponsors tightened up the bill's provisions. It passed the House 86-26, mostly along party lines, after passing the Senate 29-10 last week.

The bill allows gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit in an evacuation but adds a 48-hour limit and says weapons owners must be actively evacuating their home or returning to it.

"If you think for one moment I want to walk out in an emergency situation and not be able to have some means of protecting myself and my family, you're very mistaken," said the House sponsor, Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers. The alternative, backers said, is to leave guns for looters.

But Democrats compared the bill to the "Stand Your Ground" law and said it would lead to deaths.

"When I think about emergency evacuations, chaos, stress and anxiety are words that come to mind. And now we want to introduce guns into that equation?" said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami.

Senate Bill 176, allowing concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns on university campuses, has passed House committees but could face a roadblock in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said this week he's still deciding whether to hear the bill at the committee's final meeting Wednesday. If it isn't heard, its chances of getting to the Senate floor decreases.

Following a November shooting on the campus of Florida State University that wounded three, the bill has been one of the most hotly argued during the legislative session. The administrations and campus police at Florida's 12 public universities oppose it, but the powerful Florida branch of the National Rifle Association backs it.

A bill allowing school districts to designate individuals to carry guns in public schools for security, HB 19, also faces a possible Senate roadblock. Pre-K-12 Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, declined to hold a vote on the bill in his committee's final meeting.

Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, House sponsor of both bills, said he and the Senate sponsor, Greg Evers, R-Baker, are trying to find a way to bring the bills to the Senate floor.