Florida's Republican lawmakers are unholstering a series of bills in the state Capitol this spring heralded by gun owners but opposed by sheriffs, teachers, parents and some Democrats.

The measures would allow firing of warning shots, arm school teachers and allow residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit during emergencies. Advocates say the goal is to protect personal safety.

According to the Department of Agriculture, which issues concealed weapon licenses, the number of licenses issued more than doubled from 511,868 in 2008 to 1,249,516 as of March 31.
Of those, 91,526 are held in Broward, 74,599 in Palm Beach and 102,651 in Miami-Dade.
"When you're looking at re-election like most of these legislators are this year, you've got your eye on groups that are high-turnout voters and vote cohesively as a bloc," MacManus said.
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut, 21 states enacted laws in 2013 to curb gun violence, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. On the other hand, lawmakers in Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee also are expanding their gun laws.

"It's shocking that when the rest of the country is sort of backing down, Florida is doubling down," said state Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. "It's almost encouraging, I would say, negligent behavior."

The NRA's Tallahassee lobbyist and former national president, Marion Hammer, says the measures are all about Floridians protecting their children, property and personal safety. Take, for example, the bill on warning shots.

"If an individual mistakenly, ridiculously, ill-advisedly fires a warning shot and doesn't harm anybody or harm anything, they won't be charged under [mandatory gun-sentencing laws]. But they can be charged under other statutes," Hammer said. "The bill does not authorize, legalize, encourage or condone warning shots. It stops abusive prosecutors … in situations involving self defense."

Evacuation bill

Carrying a concealed weapon without a permit would be allowed during hurricane evacuations and other states of emergency, such as a riot, under a bill approved by the House on Friday. A similar bill in the Senate (SB 296) has one more committee stop.

"I'm not going to leave my weapon back home in my house when I'm running for my life," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers. "I'm going to put it on my person … and I'm going to get out of there."

The Florida Sheriff's Association opposes HB 209.
"I just think this could create a very, very combustible situation," said Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, envisioning evacuees in gasoline and food lines. "Frustrations and handguns don't mix."

Arming teachers

Also on Friday, a measure that would give superintendents the option to designate certain teachers and employees to carry concealed weapons on school grounds cleared its final House committee. Its Senate counterpart (SB 968) is still in committee.

Georgia just passed a similar proposal, and some schools in Texas allow it.
But parent groups and teachers oppose the measure.