TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida may soon fine some financial institutions that identify gun store purchases under a pending proposal ahead of the upcoming legislative session.
The proposal — known as the “Florida Arms and Ammo Act” — seeks to thwart the emerging corporate practice of identifying and potentially flagging an individual’s financial data after a purchase at a gun retailer.
Proponents, including Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, describe the proposal as a “first in the nation.” The effort comes as some credit card companies track and categorize gun store sales amid growing concerns of violence and mass shootings.
“We are all blessed to live in the free state of Florida where our Second Amendment rights are valued and protected, but Democrats in Washington continue to try to chip away at these rights – and we must stay vigilant,” said Simpson in a statement. “The ‘Florida Arms and Ammo Act’ draws a line in the sand and tells multi-national progressive financial institutions, and their allies in Washington, that they cannot covertly create a backdoor firearm registry of Floridians – or else.”
Zephyrhills Republican Sen. Danny Burgess and Palm City Republican Rep. John Snyder are the bill sponsors. The pair, alongside Simpson and Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey, characterized the practice of tracking sales at gun stores as a danger to liberty and privacy. What’s more, they warned of the potential for a “backdoor firearm registry” by financial corporations. State law prohibits firearm registries.
“This is the United States of America,” said Burgess. “You don’t get penalized for exercising a Constitutional right. The Second Amendment is non-negotiable, and here in Florida, we are going to fight to protect the rights of Floridians.”
Under the proposal, credit companies may face fines up to $10,000 per violation. Several companies, including Visa and Mastercard, have embraced the use of new transaction codes to categorize purchases at retailers that primarily sell ammunition and guns. Gun store transactions were previously recorded within a broader category, such as sporting goods.
“We have a responsibility to make sure our citizens are able to exercise their God given rights and can rest easy knowing that our 2nd Amendment is being protected as well as Florida’s freedom loving citizens,” said Ivey.
Not all, however, are supportive of the proposal. Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani chided the move as an unproductive political maneuver and an attempt by Simpson to boost his own political profile. Floridians, she contends, are better served with the state’s leading consumer advocate focused on more pressing issues.
“Wilton Simpson could go after credit card companies for exploitative fees or other types of predatory practices,” Eskamani told Spectrum News. “But instead, he's wasting time by going after a very, very modest proposal to essentially help equip law enforcement with resources and information to stop the next mass shooting.”
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was murdered in the 2018 Parkland Massacre, rebuked the proposal on social media. Jamie Guttenberg, 14, was among the 17 killed in the siege while fleeing a gunman armed with an AR-15 style rifle.
“My daughter was once ‘free’ in Florida,” Guttenberg wrote on Twitter with a photo of his daughter’s burial ground. “She resides in this grave now. Because of gun violence. She was murdered in the Parkland shooting. Your [expletive] legislation will certainly help those who commit gun violence. Why do you want to help the bad guys with guns?”
It is difficult to quantify how many guns are owned in Florida. The state, however, is home to more than 2.6 million residents with a concealed weapon permit as of December, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, is vowing to sign off legislation allowing permit-less carry. If passed by lawmakers and signed by DeSantis, Florida would become the 25th state to do so. The possibility is among the most high-profile issues ahead of the 2023 Legislative Session, which begins in March.