Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a law allowing Floridians to carry a concealed gun without a permit, a measure that aims to appeal to gun-loving GOP primary voters even as Democrats warned it would increase violent crime.
DeSantis, who is preparing to run against former President Donald Trump in the 2024 GOP presidential primary, has used Florida’s legislative session to rack up policy victories appealing to his party’s right wing. By signing the law, DeSantis is fulfilling a campaign promise and joining the majority of U.S. states allowing the carrying of guns without a permit.
“You don’t need a permission slip from the government to be able to exercise your constitutional rights,” DeSantis told an audience at a gun store in suburban Atlanta last week, just days after a mass shooting at a private school in Nashville, Tennessee, left six people dead, including three children.
DeSantis was visiting Adventure Outdoors, one of the East Coast’s largest gun stores, as part of a book tour largely considered a warmup for a presidential campaign.
Florida’s new law allows anyone over the age of 21 to carry a firearm without paying a fee or getting a permit from the state.
Some gun rights advocates remain angry at DeSantis, however, for not forcing through legislation allowing people to openly carry firearms. While DeSantis said he would support such a measure, opposition from the Florida Sheriffs’ Association — which does support the new permitless-carry law — led key lawmakers in the Florida Senate to oppose it.
Signing the law comes with clear political risks. Permitless carry, while a key priority of the National Rifle Association and other gun supporters, is deeply unpopular with the general public and could turn into a major Democratic attack line should DeSantis secure the Republican nomination.
A 2021 Pew Research Center survey found just 20% of U.S. adults supported allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a permit. Not even a majority of Republicans supported the idea. Even in Republican-trending Florida, the idea is unpopular. A survey last fall from Giffords, the gun control group, found 63% of Floridians opposed permitless carry.
Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison noted DeSantis signed the legislation behind closed doors alongside NRA officials.
“DeSantis knows this legislation could be dangerous for Florida families and that’s why he signed this bill with none of his usual produced fanfare,” Harrison said in a statement. “Make no mistake: DeSantis’s unabashed chase for the 2024 MAGA base has proven how extreme he is willing to go to boost his national ambitions, even if it means ignoring pleas from some law enforcement officials and putting the gun lobby over Floridians.”
Former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.), who is now a senior adviser to Giffords, told HuffPost it was “a very, very dark day for all of us in Florida.”
“We know that by signing such a dangerous bill, he’s causing our communities and children to be less safe,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “He’s putting the interest of the most extreme wing of our party above the security of our children and our communities.”
Muscarel-Powell noted that studies showed violent crime may increase by 10% or more following the enactment of permitless carry laws, and that Florida denied gun permits to 7,000 people between July 1, 2021, and June 31, 2022.
Gun advocates, particularly those aligned with Trump, have criticized DeSantis for not pushing more aggressively for the open carry law.
“It would be a shame if Ron DeSantis signs this milquetoast Counterfeit Carry bill,” Sean Themea, the chief of staff at the libertarian group Young Americans for Liberty, told Florida Politics. “By signing a bill that keeps open carry illegal, DeSantis is putting political expediency ahead of the full Second Amendment rights of Floridians. This was a chance for him to stand up to the RINOs in his own legislature and demand a clean bill. If he can’t do that in his own state, how can gun owners trust him to do that at the national level?”
After his appearance at the Georgia gun store last week, DeSantis told a gun rights advocate he would consider calling a special session of the legislature to pass an open carry law “if I can get the votes.”
The National Rifle Association, however, appeared pleased with the law DeSantis signed on Monday.
“This NRA-spearheaded initiative empowers Floridians to exercise their Second Amendment rights without undue bureaucratic barriers, affirming the fundamental right to self-defense,” Randy Kozuch, the interim executive director of the group’s lobbying arm, told Fox News.
Gun owners have formed a core part of Trump’s political base since his 2016 election, when the NRA issued the earliest endorsement in its history backing the former president soon after he secured the GOP presidential nomination.