TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Cap News Services) – A multi-year effort to close a loophole preventing churches with schools on their grounds from allowing firearms on their premises is headed to Gov. DeSantis’ desk.
Republicans believe it will make the churches safer, while Democrats argue it will do just the opposite.
Places of worship can already allow guns on their property, but if they have a school on their grounds they cannot.
Senate sponsor Joe Gruters, R- Sarasota, said all this legislation does is close that loophole.
“It’s not up to the individual. The religious institution can still determine time, place, where, when, how, who,” Gruters said.
But Democrats argued more guns equals more danger.
“I believe there are other ways to make those institutions safe, and we all know basically nowhere is safe, and that’s because there’s just too many guns in America,” State Senator Tina Polsky said.
The legislation only applies to concealed carry permit holders, which according to a 2016 report conducted by the Crime Prevention Research Center are the most law-abiding demographic in the country.
Gruters also pointed to a case in 2019, where a gunman was stopped by an armed churchgoer at the West Freeway Church of Christ in Texas.
“Six seconds it took them to secure that location,” said Gruters. “This gives schools the needed safety they need, it gives churches the additional security that they need.”
Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer expressed concerns that if a church doesn’t allow firearms the legislation could open them up to lawsuits.
“We’ve seen that the NRA is voracious in their ability and their willingness to go to court and try to block any kind of common-sense gun safety precaution,” said Farmer.
But Gruters rejected that suggestion, arguing the institution has the option of allowing or not allowing guns and pushed back against an argument made by opponents who suggested if a church is on leased property, the property owner would have no say as to whether firearms are allowed.
“Property owners ultimately still have the ultimate control. They get to decide. If the leases are silent, I would say that this is a change of terms of the agreement and they can go back and address that,” Gruters said.
The legislation will take effect upon Gov. DeSantis’ signature with chances of a veto being slim to none.