Tampa Bay Times: After lengthy, lively debate, open-carry proposal heads to full Florida House

HB 163, proposed by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach — easily passed the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. The 12-4 vote came after 2-1/2 hours of debate that included mentions of terrorism, God and the Wild West, and several unsuccessful amendments aimed at scaling back the drastic shift in public policy.

Tallahassee Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda was the only Democrat to side with Republicans in supporting the measure.

If it becomes law, concealed-weapons permit-holders could carry handguns openly wherever they’re allowed to carry concealed. Private businesses — ranging from grocery stores and bars to Disney World — would be able to decide whether people can carry guns, but no public place — such as a public hospital — could ban them.

The Senate version (SB 300) sponsored by Gaetz’s father, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, awaits consideration before that chamber’s Judiciary Committee, its second of three committee stops. Chairman Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, has said he’ll hold a hearing.

Matt Gaetz’s measure is likely to earn favor in the full House, where 81 of the 120 members are Republicans, but Democrats said they plan to continue fighting.

Republicans and gun-rights supporters heralded the proposal on Thursday as one that fortifies constitutional rights or what some — including Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice — called a “God-given right to openly carry weapons.”

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