Senate Committee blesses guns-in-church legislation

Headlines

Institutions with schools right now are prohibited from allowing weapons.

FLAPOL | by Jacob Ogles | February 1, 2021

Guns may soon be allowed at churches and synagogues, even if there’s a school on the property.

Legislation that would allow concealed carry of weapons in certain areas of religious institutions cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday. Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, characterized the issue as a matter of property rights.

“This is more of a First Amendment issue than a Second Amendment issue,” Gruters said.

The bill (SB 498) would change state law that now forbids weapons on properties with school, public or private. Gruters said all religious institutions should be able to make that decision themselves. Just as churches and synagogues without schools can make the decision whether to allow guns on property, the legislation would leave it to the owner of the land whether to restrict weapons.

“The church would be authorized to be able to do whatever they want in terms of restrictions,” Gruters said. “They don’t have to allow people to carry guns. They could say, ‘Only carry guns during certain times or during certain periods or certain days.’ But essentially, the church would have the same ability as the other churches have now.”

The committee hearing on Monday drew standard voices on gun rights to testify.

The National Rifle Association’s Marion Hammer argued that it’s wrong to restrict constitutionally protected rights enjoyed at the grocery store when one walks into a sanctuary, just because there’s a private day care on site.

“Some are being prohibited from having security teams to provide safety on church property,” Hammer said.

But others argued Florida law has the right to say schools must remain gun-free. Trish Neely of the League of Women Voters said there are better ways to solve security problems than letting guns near children.

“Smart people can craft smart solutions without permitting more guns,” she said.

That argument drew the attention of some on the Judiciary Committee.

“Guns are too dangerous to accidentally go off— or on purpose,” said Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat. “I certainly don’t believe guns create more safety. They create more chaos, more violence.”

Polsky said the proposed change would create “total confusion” at school properties shared with religious institutions.

“Obviously, a determination was made that guns are just too dangerous, accidentally to go off or on purpose,” she said. “I don’t understand why, because there’s a church that operates on a school property or has a school on the premises or in the basement, why suddenly they need to be armed.”

The House passed a version of this legislation last Session. But the Senate version, then sponsored by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, died in the Criminal Justice Committee.

Content from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.