South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
Florida House panel: Let workers keep guns in cars
By John Kennedy
March 13, 2008
A Republican-controlled House council struggled with a pair of competing GOP principles Wednesday: the right to bear arms and the rights of private landowners to control their property.
In the end, the guns won.
Over fierce opposition from major Florida employers, a House council voted 11-6 Wednesday to allow employees to carry concealed weapons to work — provided they kept them in their vehicles.
The move was a major victory for the National Rifle Association, which has pushed unsuccessfully the past two years for even stronger guns-at-work legislation.
Last year's effort came before the same House Environment and Natural Resources Council just days after a Virginia Tech student shot and killed 32 people and then himself. It did not pass.
But in this election year, supporters came up with a compromise, limiting the gun-carrying provision to the more than 500,000 Floridians with concealed-weapons permits.
"This is closer to where we want to be, but not where we want to be," said Marion Hammer, the NRA lobbyist. "The Constitution begins, 'We the people,' not 'We the Chamber of Commerce' or 'We the Disney' or 'We the Publix.' It's about everyday people and their lives."
The organizations cited by Hammer were among those opposing the legislation, which they said violated their rights to control what comes onto their property. Most large employers currently ban firearms.
"Who do you want to decide what you can or can't do on your property? Government or the employer?" said David Daniel, lobbyist for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. He ridiculed the measure (CS/HB 503) as "a big government solution looking for a problem."
But its sponsor, Rep. Greg Evers, R-Baker, said that employers provide few safeguards against random workplace violence, so workers should be allowed to have weapons nearby for their own protection. Florida's AFL-CIO was among the groups supporting the bill.
A similar bill (SB1130) has been introduced in the Senate. The House version faces at least one more committee stop before going to the full House, although further action has not yet been scheduled.
Republican lawmakers, apparently worn down by two years of battle over the issue, seemed eager to approve the scaled-back bill.
Business groups said Reps. Ray Sansom, R-Destin, and Dean Cannon, R- Winter Park, in line to be House speakers over the next four years, were intent on putting the issue behind them and signaled support for the concealed-weapons compromise.
"They threw [the NRA] a bone in an election year," said Randy Miller, of the Florida Retail Federation.
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Co. newspaper.