Guns aren’t allowed in schools. But some religious ones could get an exception.

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Private schools with a religious institution on-site could decide for themselves if they want to allow armed security or concealed guns on their property, under a proposal that got preliminary approval from a House subcommittee on Wednesday.

The measure (HB 849) from Polk County Republican Rep. Neil Combee would carve out certain religious private schools from the Florida law that prohibits anyone except law enforcement officers from carrying guns in K-12 schools and colleges and universities, regardless of whether those schools are public or private.

Combee said houses of worship — such as churches, mosques or synagogues — that also have a daycare or school on their property cannot have armed security, because doing so would violate the state’s ban on guns in schools and certain other “gun-free” zones.

Under his bill, those religious private schools would be treated like any other private property, where the property owner can determine whether to allow concealed weapons.

People see this as a problem. They don’t want to be violating the law.

Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk County

Combee’s bill was amended Wednesday by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee so that it applies only to “private school property if a religious institution … is located on the property.” The bill passed 10-2, with Democratic Reps. Sharon Pritchett, of Miami Gardens, and Ramon Alexander, of Tallahassee, opposing it.

Miami Beach Democratic Rep. David Richardson voted with Republicans in advancing it.

Combee’s bill has two more committee hearings in the House, but there is no Senate companion to it — which is typically required for bills to have a chance at becoming law.

Coral Springs Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz, who was absent for the vote, asked Combee if he would allow the bill to expand and include public schools. Combee said he wouldn’t support such an attempt.

“We’re trying to fix a problem created by a lack of foresight by the Legislature,” he said. “People see this as a problem. They don’t want to be violating the law.”

Combee’s bill would let only the 1.7 million people with concealed-weapons permits in Florida carry their guns in those private religious schools, if the religious institution on-site allowed it.

Dover Republican Rep. Ross Spano, the criminal justice chairman, said he attends a church in Hillsborough County where “our pastor has received several death threats.”

“So obviously there’s a need for protection — yet we also have a pre-school facility, and obviously we don’t want our church to be breaking the law,” Spano said. “That’s what this bill would achieve.”

The measure has support from gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association and Florida Carry. The League of Women Voters of Florida and the Florida PTA oppose it.


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