As permitless carry becomes law in Florida, law enforcement agencies urge training
The new law will require deputies “to do a little more research” when they encounter someone carrying a firearm, Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister said
By Tony Marrero
Tampa Bay Times
TAMPA BAY, Fla. — With a new Florida law allowing people to carry concealed firearms without a permit taking effect this weekend, Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies are educating their personnel and the public about what’s changed — and what hasn’t.
Starting Saturday, gun owners will no longer be required to apply and pay for a concealed carry permit. The new law ends a training requirement to get a permit, which was among the most debated aspects of HB 543.
But much of the emphasis by local officials is on what has stayed the same under the new law.
“In order to adequately explain what has changed and the impact, you have to understand what was in place, what the status quo is, and how it all weaves together,” Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.
Gualtieri and others stress that many mandates and prohibitions governing who can and can’t carry a gun, and where guns are allowed, are still in place. They say people who misunderstand or are misinformed about the new law could wind up facing criminal charges.
Officials urge gunowners to take a training class before they carry even though they’re no longer required. Quality training classes focus not just on how to safely operate and store a firearm, they say, but how gunowners can avoid running afoul of the law.
What’s new, what’s not
Gualtieri partnered with other Pinellas law enforcement officials to make a 75-second public service video and an informational sheet titled “Permitless Carry Myth vs. Fact.”
“There’s a lot of misinformation about the new permitless carry law in Florida,” Gualtieri says to open the video.
Getting top billing in the video the Sheriff’s Office created: The open carrying of guns in Florida is still illegal in most cases. Exceptions for people who are hunting, fishing or camping, or traveling to and from those activities, still apply.
The law also does not change who can carry a firearm, the waiting period to purchase one or where they can legally be carried.
For example, you still must be 21 and a U.S. citizen without a felony conviction, among other criteria. You still can’t bring a gun into places such as schools, colleges and universities, courthouses, government meetings and bars.
The punishment for carrying a gun in violation of the law is still a third-degree felony.
People who carry a concealed firearm with or without a state permit must also carry a valid identification and present it to law enforcement upon request. Not doing so is a noncriminal violation that carries a $25 fine.
Gualtieri pointed to two facets of the law that could create the most confusion and legal problems for gun owners.
The first is the age requirement.
People younger than 21 still cannot legally carry a concealed firearm, with or without a permit, though people 18 and older can transport a gun in a private vehicle as long as it is “securely encased or is otherwise not readily accessible for immediate use.”
Under the new law, people 21 and over who are otherwise legally eligible to carry a concealed firearm can do so in their vehicle without the weapon being in a secure case. But people between 18 and 20 still must meet that requirement.
“If your buddy’s 22 and he’s driving the car and he’s got a gun in his waistband and doesn’t have a permit, he’s fine,” Gualtieri said. “If you’re 19 and you’re on the passenger side and you’ve got a gun in your waistband, you’re going to jail for carrying a concealed firearm, and it’s a felony.”
The other area where problems could arise, Gualtieri and other officials said, is on private property.
The new law does not give gunowners the right to carry concealed firearms on private property against the wishes of the property owner. That point is emphasized in bold print in a 12-page booklet that the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office created as a guide for its deputies.
”This applies to a private residence or a business,” the booklet states. “A business owner, such as a grocery store, can prohibit anyone, including concealed carry permit holders, from carrying a firearm inside their store.”
A person carrying a gun who refuses to leave private property upon request could be subject to arrest for armed trespassing, which is a felony.
Officials are warning travelers to be careful, too.
Tampa International Airport police Chief Charlie Vazquez held a news conference with federal officials on Tuesday to remind passengers that it’s still illegal to bring a firearm to a security checkpoint. Travelers must transport firearms in a locked hardside container in checked baggage.
Training and enforcement
One of the biggest issues that critics voiced during the debate over the bill was dropping the training requirement.
Officials point out that the Florida Department of Agriculture is keeping the permitting program and will issue permits to people who go through it. Officials note that having a Florida permit still has benefits, such as allowing holders to carry concealed firearms in several other states. And people with a Florida permit receive an exemption from the three-day waiting period between the sale and delivery of a firearm.
Gualtieri said what the state considers acceptable training isn’t adequate anyway and that gunowners would be better served by taking part in more rigorous training, such as the free, 8-hour training his office offers.
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister dedicated $100,000 to partner with Shooters World, a firearm sales and training business in Tampa, to offer free training to Hillsborough residents who signed up for it.
“Whether you like this law or you hate this new law, the fact is there was a void created in the law and that’s the training mechanism,” Chronister said at an April news conference. The free training, he said, “is a step in that direction to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep responsible gun owners safe.”
Chronister announced an initial allotment of $50,000, then doubled that after training spots filled up in less than a day. The funding, which has since run out, was enough to train more than 1,200, according to the sheriff’s office. The money came from the office’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund, which is funded by seized and forfeited contraband.
Agencies are using a variety of methods to make sure their personnel are trained on the law.
The Pinellas Sheriff’s Office’s training booklet features a flow chart taking deputies through various scenarios to determine if a person is lawfully carrying a gun.
The St. Petersburg Police Department’s general counsel sent a three-page memo breaking down the changes in the law, and attorneys in the department’s legal division have been attending officer roll calls to answer questions, department spokesperson Yolanda Fernandez said in an email.
Tampa police Chief Lee Bercaw told the city’s Citizen Review Board this week that his department provided a legal bulletin and roll call training to officers.
The Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office was still working this week to develop policies and procedures, according to a response to a Times inquiry and records request.
Chronister at the April news conference said the new law will require deputies “to do a little more research” when they encounter someone carrying a firearm.
“It’s not just, ‘here’s my permit’ and I’m free to go on my way,” Chronister said. “They’ll have to do a little more digging and access the programs we have available to make sure that, indeed, this person has the lawful right to carry that concealed firearm.”
Gualtieri said he is directing deputies to “use good judgement and discretion” and take an educational approach when possible. The goal is to issue warnings when appropriate to people like that hypothetical 19 year-old in the car rather than saddle them with a felony arrest.
But gunowners shouldn’t assume they’ll get off with a warning.
“That’s me and that’s our agency,” Gualtieri said. “There are 400 police departments across the state of Florida.”
For more information on Florida’s concealed carry law and permitting program, go to https://www.fdacs.gov/Consumer-Resources/Concealed-Weapon-License.