Legislators Already Have the Right to Carry at Meetings of a Legislative Body.
About two weeks ago, the Criminal Justice Subcommittee voted on HB 183, which permits elected officials to carry concealed weapons in public meetings over which they preside, such as city council and county commission meetings. There is also a companion bill making its way through the Florida Senate (SB 1524). Many have been up in arms about this, looking at it as the elected officials giving themselves more “rights” than those they serve, creating special “rights” for the “ruling class.” Although I would never support such special exceptions for elected officials, in this case, I am unsure why the controversy, and even more unclear as to why the law is even needed.
The Title of the Bill is Misleading
The misconception regarding this bill may stem from the title of the bill itself. The bill is entitled “An Act Relating to Prohibited Places For Weapons and Firearms.” It then goes on to state that it amends Florida Statute §790.06. This implies that §790.06 prohibits the carrying of firearms into certain places. It does not. Nowhere in §790.06 does it state the carrying of a firearm into a legislative meeting is prohibited. What it does state is that the carrying of a firearm into certain places is NOT AUTHORIZED by having a Concealed Weapon and Firearm License issued under the authority of §790.06. There is a huge difference between prohibiting and not authorizing.
In relevant part, Florida Statutes §790.06 (12)(a) reads:
A license issued under this section does not authorize any person to openly carry a handgun or carry a concealed weapon or firearm into:
7. Any meeting of the governing body of a county, public school district, municipality, or special district;
8. Any meeting of the Legislature or a committee thereof;
Although §790.06 does not authorize those with a concealed weapon and Firearms license to carry into said meetings, it also does not prohibit the otherwise lawful carrying of a firearm or weapon under other sections of Florida law into such places.
Carrying at Your Place of Business
Florida Statute §790.25 entitled Lawful ownership, possession, and use of firearms and other weapons allows the possession of a firearm either carried openly or concealed on an individual for certain lawful uses with or without a Concealed Weapon & Firearm License. In relevant part, the statute states:
(3) LAWFUL USES.—The provisions of ss. 790.053 and 790.06 do not apply in the following instances, and, despite such sections, it is lawful for the following persons to own, possess, and lawfully use firearms and other weapons, ammunition, and supplies for lawful purposes:
(n) A person possessing arms at his or her home or place of business;
The Courts have interpreted this language to allow business owners and employees to either openly carry or concealed carry without a CWFL in their places of employment. This was first recognized by the courts in Peoples v. State, 287 So.2d 63 (Fla 1973) and clarified to include the surrounding property in State v. Anton, 700 So 2d 743 (Fla. 2d DCA 1997).
Similarly, under subsection (12), Florida Statute §790.06 does not authorize those who possess a CWFL to carry a concealed firearm into “any portion of an establishment licensed to dispense alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises, which portion of the establishment is primarily devoted to such purpose;” however, there can be no argument that under §790.25 (3) (n) the bar owner or an employee of the bar can carry a firearm with or without a CWFL into the establishment. Why then would the same not apply to a legislator at his place of business?
Legislative Meetings are a Legislator’s Place of Business
Legislators who are attending a legislative meeting are in their place of business. The Florida Supreme Court in State v. Little, 104 So. 3d 1263, 1266 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013) wrote:
The Florida Supreme Court has defined “place of business” as “simply a location where business is transacted.” McCall v. State, 156 Fla. 437, 23 So. 2d 492, 494 (Fla. 1945). The facts before us establish that Little’s place of business was the union hall. Little was required to report for and perform duties at the union hall, including providing security in the union parking lot.
Under the facts of this case we find that Little was encompassed within the “place of business” exception in section 790.25(3)(n).
Although §790.06 does not authorize those with a CWFL to carry into a legislative meeting, when they are otherwise authorized, it does not prohibit them from doing so. Florida Statute §790.25 (3)(n) gives them the same, not more, not less, right to carry at their place of employment that every citizen of the state of Florida enjoys. The new proposed legislation is not necessary and provides them with no greater right then they currently have, nor a right greater than any other citizen of the state.
Unfortunately, the Florida House of Representatives legal Counsel has previously opined that the legislature is not a place of business within the meaning of the statute. When considered with the expressed legislative intent that §790.25 “shall be liberally construed to carry out the declaration of policy herein and in favor of the constitutional right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes,” it seems clear to me that House of Representatives counsel got it wrong. I believe the courts would rule that the legislature is a place of business, which fits the definition the FL Supreme Court has previously expressed as far back as 1945 and gives credence to the rules of statutory interpretation that the plain meaning should be given effect. Further, if the plain meaning is not clear, the legislative intent certainly seems to be.