TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Licensed gun owners may soon be allowed to carry concealed on school grounds owned by religious institutions.
Senators gave final legislative approval to the controversial bill in a party-line vote held Tuesday.
Current law allows carrying weapons on church grounds -- unless occupied by a school.
HB 259 removes that provision permitting guns in schools owned or used by religious institutions, even if there is no church on the property.
"What this bill does is closes the loophole that exists now," Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota said.
Gruters, the bill sponsor, said it will fix a property rights issue and allow owners to decide whether guns should be permitted for themselves.
"This gives schools the needed safety they need," he said. "It gives churches the additional safety they need. This gives the property owners the ultimate decision."
Democrats, however, were universally opposed to HB 259. They believed it was a dangerous expansion of Florida's gun laws.
"It just makes me, us, very uncomfortable," said Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton. "We’re saying more guns, more guns, more guns when we have had ... what is it? Sixty [mass shootings] so far this year?"
Even the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops has been in opposition to approval. Members sent a letter to the sponsor last month asking him to kill the bill.
"We represent the largest number of affected religious institutions in Florida, with 469 parishes, 57 missions, 205 K-12 schools, and we object strongly to the current proposal in SB 498," the letter reads.
The conference listed three main reasons:
- The policy infringes on well-established current policies
- Institutions forbidding guns may be seen as softer targets
- Bishops would prefer an opt-in policy rather than opt-out
The governor will decide what to do next. So far he has been quiet with his opinion of the policy. His signature would make the bill a law instantly with immediate effect.