Floridians without weapons permits will be able to carry guns during emergency evacuations without fear of prosecution as part of a bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott this week.
SB 290, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, was one of a handful of gun bills to pass through the Legislature this year. The new law would allow people to carry guns without permits during the 48 hours of an emergency evacuation.
The bill hits close to home for Floridians who may have to deal with emergency evacuations during hurricane season.Carrying a concealed weapon without a license is currently a third-degree felony in Florida.
Democrats worried the bill would make shelters unsafe and some argued law enforcement wouldn't be able to distinguish between gun owners and looters during an evacuation.
Gun rights groups widely supported the legislation; however. SB 290 was one bill the National Rifle Association pushed the Legislature to pass during this year's regular session.
"When you're ordered under a mandatory evacuation to take your family, pets and important documents and leave your home and other belongings behind, you should not be deprived of the ability to protect yourself and your family," wrote former NRA president Marion Hammer in an email to members.
Hammer also explained it wasn't fair for gun owners to be forced to leave their firearms behind for looters.
The law also corrected the Florida statute which prohibited concealed carry during an emergency evacuation. That change was offered by gun group Florida Carry.
"We offered this simple change to the law because it will help to ensure that people who hold concealed carry licenses are not treated like common criminals," said the group in an email.
"This is a great bill and we can breathe a little more of freedom's air because it is now the law in Florida -- thanks to the 29 senators, 89 representatives and Governor Rick Scott," said Hammer.
The new law is effective immediately.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen