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LGBTQ+ Activists Speak Out as Florida Considers Loosening Gun Access

LGBTQ+ Activists Speak Out as Florida Considers Loosening Gun Access

Florida House Speaker Paul Renner speaking at a podium

Florida's Speaker of the House introduced a bill this week allowing concealed weapons to be carried without a permit.

A proposal in the Florida Legislature to allow individuals to carry concealed weapons without a permit has LGBTQ activists outraged.

Florida House Speaker Paul Renner announced on Monday that a so-called “constitutional carry” bill had been filed.

He tweeted, "HB 543 ensures that those who are eligible to own a gun do not need additional permission from the government to carry it."

The bill would allow a person who is eligible to get a concealed weapons permit to carry a concealed gun without obtaining one. It would bar anyone who wouldn't be able to purchase a firearm to have one concealed, according to Renner.

But many who pushed for better controls in Florida on who has access to deadly weapons voiced frustration and anger at the legislation. Many noted the push for weaker gun laws came in the same state that suffered the worst shooting in U.S. history that victimized the LGBTQ community, and where threats of further violence are on the rise.

“Permitless carry would mean a complete reversal of the progress Florida made after Pulse and Parkland on gun violence prevention,” said Carlos Guillermo Smith, a former Democratic lawmaker. “The Republican plan to eliminate basic firearm training standards and criminal background checks for concealed carry will cost lives and pave the way for open carry in our state.”

Smith, who lost his Orlando area seat in the Midterms, was the first gay Latino ever elected to the Florida Legislature. He first took office shortly after the Pulse shooting in 2016, and wore a rainbow ribbon every day in the legislature to honor the victims killed in that attack.

Despair was also voiced by Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the shooting who lost two close friends in the attack. He now serves as a spokesman for Equality Florida, and released a statement critiquing the legislation.

"Let's be clear-eyed: the filing of permitless carry in Florida is an endorsement of violent hate and an insult to those who have had loved ones stolen in America's gun violence epidemic," Wolf said. "LGBTQ Floridians know all too well that this country's obsession with easy access to deadly weapons can take discrimination and bigotry and make it lethal. Gun violence is not abstract or hypothetical — it is stealing our loved ones. Instead of stripping away common sense safety precautions like background checks and proficiency training, the legislature should be focused on ways to keep Floridians safe. If passed, permitless carry will cost lives."

Gun advocates have argued for years Florida’s concealed carry permit requirements abridge their second amendment right to bear arms by requiring a certification from the state in order to carry a weapon in public places.

Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat whose district includes the Pulse site, considers the bill dangerous to marginalized communities. She spoke to The Advocate from outside District Dive, Southern Craft, and Southern Nights. She counted five windows shot out by gunfire in an apparent hate crime earlier this month. Police still have not made an arrest.

“This is one of the only gay establishments here in Orlando,” she said.

Eskamani said she wasn’t surprised by the bill as Gov. Ron DeSantis endorsed constitutional carry during his successful re-election campaign last year. But she still sees the proposal as outrageous.

“We are seeing elevated violence, and it’s not just homophobia and transphobia. It’s an increase in slurs and in anti-Semitism. We have those people in Florida who identify with the insurrectionists. It’s a constant concern.

“Every day when I walk out on stage, I worry about being shot,” the Iranian American lawmaker said.

There’s also angst at how rapidly tragedies that inspired modest gun measures have been forgotten. After a shooting at a high school in Parkland that killed 17 prompted a youth-driven movement for greater gun safety measures, Florida upped the buying age for a firearm to 21. But now there will be less documentation of who has firearms.

“Permitless carry permits more violence. More hate,” said David Moran, an LGBTQ+ gun control activist. “More danger not just for the LGBTQ+ community... it makes Florida less safe for everyone.

“DeSantis and the Florida Legislature have learned nothing from Pulse, Parkland or the day-to-day gun violence epidemic plaguing our state and this country. We need more common sense gun control and less pandering to the NRA and DeSantis' presidential aspirations.”

Meanwhile, the loosening of gun safety measures comes as DeSantis and the Republican-majority legislature advance policies like restricting teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in schools, and pulling books that anti-LGBTQ activists find offensive for preaching tolerance.

“The irony is we are regulating books more than we are regulating guns,” Eskamani said.

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