Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed on Friday that he would make Florida a so-called constitutional carry state, which would allow people to publicly carry firearms without permits.
“The legislature will get it done,” DeSantis said during a news conference in north Florida. “I can’t tell you if it’s going to be next week or six months, but I can tell you that before I am done as governor, we will have a signature on that.”
In Florida, people must obtain concealed weapon permits in order to carry hidden guns in public. About 2.5 million people have permits, more than any other state where they are required. The permit can be obtained by taking a gun training course and submitting proof of competency. In most cases, gun owners in Florida cannot openly carry firearms without permits, either, except in certain circumstances, like while hunting.
For DeSantis, successfully ushering a constitutional carry measure into law would be another conservative victory as he builds a resume that could appeal to Republican primary voters if he decides to run for president. He has already taken on several other issues of importance to his base, including a 15-week abortion ban and championing several measures the LGBTQ community has called anti-transgender, such as a prohibition on transgender girls and women competing in female scholastic sports.
“We used to be a leader on the Second Amendment,” said DeSantis, who is up for reelection in November.
Gun rights advocates have long pushed to make Florida, already one of the most gun-friendly states in the country, a constitutional carry state. But they have been unsuccessful in convincing Republican leaders who have held power in Tallahassee for two decades to lift one of the few limitations on gun ownership here. Earlier this year, a bill to allow for the constitutional carry of weapons died without any committee hearings.
DeSantis laid the urgency to pass a constitutional carry provision at the feet of state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat and the head of the office that manages weapons permits in Florida. DeSantis asserted that Fried “doesn’t support Second Amendment rights.”
“So why would you want to subcontract out your constitutional rights to a public official that rejects the very existence of those rights,” DeSantis said.
The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ stewardship of gun permits is a unique arrangement once championed by the National Rifle Association. At the time, the office was controlled by a Republican.
Fried, who is not running for reelection and is instead seeking her party’s nomination to take on DeSantis in November, has supported lawful gun ownership and has sued the Biden administration for denying federal firearm permits to those who use medical marijuana. Since she took office in 2019, her office has approved nearly 500,000 new permits to carry concealed weapons.
“I’m a gun owner and concealed weapons license holder,” Fried declared in a 2019 op-ed.
Fried has also called on DeSantis to lift a state ban on local governments passing gun ordinances, which would allow communities to decide if they wanted to limit ownership of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. She has suspended the licenses of people charged with crimes related to the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, a move she noted Friday on Twitter: “I just suspended seven more Florida licenses held by January 6th insurrectionists.”
Responding to DeSantis’ announcement on Twitter, US Rep. Charlie Crist, also running for governor as a Democrat, said, “The last thing Florida needs during a gun violence epidemic is a governor who wants dangerous people carrying guns on the street without so much as a background check.”
Republican lawmakers have broached gun issues cautiously of late in Florida, the site of a deadly 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland. After the massacre, which left 17 students and staff dead, Republicans and Democrats united to raise the age requirement to purchase a rifle or shotgun to 21 and to enact a so-called red flag law, which allows a court to temporarily remove firearms from someone perceived as a threat. The combined measures were signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican.
But DeSantis criticized the law as a candidate in 2018, saying he would have vetoed it if it had reached his desk. Calling himself a “big Second Amendment guy,” he also backed allowing firearms on college campuses.
Gun politics loomed large that year in DeSantis’ primary, where he faced Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who campaigned as a self-described “Proud NRA sellout.” Putnam’s oversight of concealed weapons permits became a dominating issue in the race after reports emerged that his office had failed for more than a year to conduct background checks on some permit applications. Putnam’s office improperly gave gun licenses to hundreds of people that later had to be revoked.
Though DeSantis has voiced support for constitutional carry in the past, Friday’s declaration was his most vocal assurance to gun rights groups that he intends to make it a priority. If it’s approved, Florida would become the second-largest state to allow permitless concealed carry of guns. Texas Gov. Greg Abbot signed a bill last year that allows people to carry guns most places without licenses or safety training.
A permit is not required to carry a handgun in 23 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
DeSantis has already called for lawmakers to return to the state Capitol in May for a special session focused on a property insurance crisis, and he could force the Legislature to consider constitutional carry legislation then.