New Florida law allows firearms in schools co-located with churches; Critics oppose extension of gun rights
July 2, 2021
A new Florida law that expands the rights to carry concealed firearms and erodes the Florida gun ban on school property is now in effect.
The Republican-backed measure was passed by the Legislature this spring as Senate Bill 259 and was enacted by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday.
Senator Joe Gruters, a Republican from Southwest Florida and Chairman of the Florida Republican Party, sponsored the bill, saying its intention was to allow people with concealed gun licenses to carry their guns when religious activities, whether or not the activities are carried out on property co-located with a school.
“For the purposes of safety, security, personal protection or any other legal purpose, a person authorized under this section may carry a concealed weapon or firearm on property owned, rented, rented, borrowed or used legally by a church, synagogue, or other religious institution, ”says the new law.
In other words, a religious institution that operates a school on its property can now legally carry firearms in and around that school. Likewise, a school that rents or lends part of its property for religious activities can no longer ban firearms on that same property.
Gruters argued throughout the spring legislative session that the new law protects the property rights of religious organizations that wish to exercise their right to bear arms even over property they own or lease and which is co-located with schools. A religious organization can decide for itself whether to allow concealed firearms within it.
Critics of SB 259 have said in legislative testimony that it leaves some schools exposed to guns on their campuses, with no way of determining whether or not a person carrying a concealed weapon is affiliated with a sanctioned religious organization that hires a part of the property.
Unarmed school zones were made mandatory by state law in 2018 after the gunshot massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The law prohibits firearms on school property, whether the school is privately owned or the property has been leased to another entity for other purposes.
Democrats in the legislature who wanted to preserve unarmed school zones opposed SB 259 in the spring session. Joining them in opposition at the time were the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence (created in response to the 2018 Pulse nightclub shooting), the Florida Council of Churches, and the Bishops’ Conference. Florida Catholics, all of whom testified against the bill.
Critics, citing deadly mass shootings across the country – including two in March, in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado – said Florida should curb the proliferation of guns, not expand their use in school zones .
Gruters claimed that unarmed school zones prevent people attending church services and other religious activities on property co-located with a school from carrying their weapons. He said they wanted their weapons to be close at hand to defend their congregations from attackers. He cited recent shootings in churches and synagogues, including the deadly 2015 attack on an African-American church in Charleston by a white supremacist.
A Florida organization that approved the bill, which has become law, says it does not go far enough to protect gun rights.
“Although this bill is a small step in the right direction, Florida is being left behind when it comes to gun rights,” Matt Collins, director of legislation for Florida Gun Rights, said in a statement. press this week. “Sadly, Republicans in this state, including Governor Ron DeSantis, are not leading the 2nd Amendment.”
This story was originally published by the Florida Phoenix. For more stories from the Florida Phoenix, visit FloridaPhoenix.com.