DeSantis budget veto signals intention to eliminate gun permitting in Florida

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Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis denied funding for new personnel for the state's licensing division.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried issued a statement on June 2 registering her concern over Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' veto of 83 new positions she had requested for her agency's Division of Licensing for owners of concealed weapons.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is responsible for issuing permits to carry concealed firearms or weapons, which are defined as "a hand gun, electronic weapon or device, tear gas gun, knife or billie." 

The governor's denial of the request came along with a record number of vetoes of $3 billion in items proposed for his 2022-2023 "Freedom First Budget" — items largely inserted by Republican members of the Legislature. 

Although cutting the number of personnel available to process firearms licenses could limit the number of licenses issued, the commissioner says that this is exactly DeSantis' intention. Recently, the governor has said that he intends to pass a permitless carry law in Florida before his term is over, and Fried believes that this goal is what his veto presages.

"If anyone needed proof that he still wants to enact dangerous unlicensed open carry after weeks of horrific massacres across the country," Fried said, referring to recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, "here it is." 

Open carry, or permitless carry, would allow an individual to carry a handgun with no firearms training and without a permit or a background check. 

Fried is one of six Democrats running in the primary, to be held on Aug. 23. The winner will face DeSantis in the general election in November. 

Fried said in her statement that she had prioritized improving the operations of the Division of Licensing to keep Floridians safe.

Noting the record high number of applications for permits, she said that the division had completed background checks on every applicant, "something my predecessor did not do." In 2018, Republican Commissioner Adam Putnam was criticized after 365 individuals received permits without background checks.

According to Fried's statement, "In the current fiscal year alone, the division has received over 300,000 applications, of which nearly 7,000 were rejected for ineligibility. During this time, the department also used its lawful authority and carried out its legal duty to suspend the licenses of more than 5,000 individuals for disqualifying offenses – including 35 individuals involved in the insurrection – and revoke 1,265 licenses."

While the veto does curb government spending, a statement from the commissioner's office to the American Independent Foundation repeated and expanded upon Fried's claim that the governor's motivation was more likely his intention to eliminate firearms permitting: "We believe Governor DeSantis' veto of these positions is an indication that he still plans to pursue a dangerous permitless open carry policy in Florida. By denying the state an opportunity to process and approve permits for responsible gun owners more quickly, it's clear that he believes these positions will be unnecessary under the open carry law he has said he wants to pass."

Patricia Brigham of Prevent Gun Violence Florida agreed: "That would be my first concern," she said in an interview with the American Independent Foundation. "If this is happening at the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which issues concealed weapons permits, this could be a warning sign that permitless carry is coming."

According to Brigham, Florida has about 2.52 million holders of concealed carry permits. "We are back and forth with Texas for that No. 1 position," she noted.

She added: "To get a permit you have to go through a more rigorous background check — which includes fingerprinting — than you do when you buy a gun. Permitless carry would obviously take that away. The second thing is when you get a permit you have to undergo training before they issue it. That would go away too. You're going to have people walking around with concealed weapons with no idea how to use them, and there are no safeguards, no licensing, no training. It's a big concern."

Florida, nicknamed the "Gunshine State" by both detractors and supporters, ranks 19th in the country according to the strength of its gun safety laws, the gun violence prevention organization Everytown notes on its website.

Following the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, the state enacted so-called extreme risk laws. According to Everytown, "Extreme Risk laws, sometimes referred to as 'Red Flag' laws, allow loved ones or law enforcement to intervene by petitioning a court for an order to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing guns."

But Florida legislation also provides for arming staff in schools, and its "stand your ground" law allows people to shoot at perceived threats in public: "A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony." 

This week, the Florida Supreme Court is set to hear a case concerning the state's 2011 "preemption statute," legislation that allows the state to penalize cities and counties and their officials for enacting gun laws that are more restrictive than state laws. It permits the state to impose fines of $5,000 on local officials. Over 70 local officials and 30 municipalities, in addition to Fried, petitioned the state Supreme Court to hear their case after an appeals court upheld the law. 

The case does not challenge the 1987 law that underlies the statute, but it does address its penalty provisions. 

The statement from Fried's office last week noted that she had repeatedly asked DeSantis to call a special session of the Legislature to address gun violence. She also pointed out that the governor, who has not responded, has made no suggestions of action to take in the wake of the latest shootings, nor has he offered any condolences to their victims.

At a press conference on Friday, according to the Florida Phoenix, DeSantis, responding to a reporter’s question, finally addressed the shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo.

The governor, ignoring the racist motivations of the avowed white supremacist shooter who had traveled 200 miles to a majority-Black Buffalo neighborhood, focused instead on the fact that New York requires permits for concealed carry: "The Buffalo shooter, for example, said 'you know I'm going places where I don't have to worry about people, conceal carry, or anything like that because he wants — they wanted basically sitting ducks." DeSantis made no mention of gun safety in nearly seven minutes of comments.

June 6, 2:44 p.m.: Updated to include comments by DeSantis.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.