Reader Bennet Richt writes:
Lifelong Florida resident here with some advice to those evacuating as Hurricane Irma approaches. As background, I’m an NRA instructor and was teaching a basic pistol class a few years ago when someone asked me a question I didn’t have an answer to. That question was how do gun laws work when there’s a hurricane or a state of emergency?
I had just gotten my certification and I had no idea. Some research revealed some pretty interesting information that every gun owner exiting of the cone of (un)certainty should know about.
The state of Florida has very broad powers in the declaration of an emergency, and Governor Scott has already done so. Chapter 252 says what the state can and cannot do, but the local and state government can restrict your right to buy firearms if you don’t have any already.
FS 252.36 – Emergency Management Powers of the Governor
(5)(h): Suspend or limit the sale, dispensing, or transportation of alcoholic beverages, firearms, explosives, and combustibles. However, nothing contained in ss. 252.31-252.90 shall be construed to authorize the seizure, taking, or confiscation of firearms that are lawfully possessed, unless a person is engaged in the commission of a criminal act.
We joke about Koreans on rooftops and shooting looters, but regrettably, if you don’t have a gun now, there is a chance that you may not be able to legally buy one if things really go sideways and the state government clamps down.
I was at a convenience store after the last bad storm and the local sherriff’s office came in and roped off the entire beer cooler. A bunch of borderline alcoholics who buy their beer by the can were then barred from alcohol. I didn’t hang around long enough to see what the result of that looked like and I don’t advise anyone else to. The old Boy Scout adage of ‘be prepared’ was true when I was a kid and it’s just as true today.
Now, those of you who’ve read 252 may be thinking “no, they can’t prevent people from buying guns….” That’s not what the law says.
FS 870.044 – Automatic Emergency Measures
(1): 870.044 Whenever the public official declares that a state of emergency exists, pursuant to s. 870.043, the following acts shall be prohibited during the period of said emergency throughout the jurisdiction: (1) The sale of, or offer to sell, with or without consideration, any ammunition or gun or other firearm of any size or description. (2) The intentional display, after the emergency is declared, by or in any store or shop of any ammunition or gun or other firearm of any size or description. (3) The intentional possession in a public place of a firearm by any person, except a duly authorized law enforcement official or person in military service acting in the official performance of her or his duty.
While 870.43 specifies “an act of violence or a flagrant and substantial defiance of, or resistance to, a lawful exercise of public authority” rather than a storm, those are just the kinds of situations that can follow a big hurricane’s landfall. This goes back to the importance of being prepared.
A few other things to consider when evacuating:
Many hurricane shelters will be on city-owned or school district property where firearms are prohibited. Anyone remember the Gun Free School Zones Act? That’s still very much a thing. The only thing worse than losing your house is then ending up in the big house afterward. Many municipal grounds are no bueno for firearms carrying or possession.
Do you own a machinegun? AOW? SBR? SBS? Remember that ATF Form 5320.20 requires approval BEFORE any interstate movement. Silencers, however, are exempt. So if you’re heading north from Jacksonville Beach, your papers better be good to go before you pass that WELCOME TO GEORGIA sign. The ATF provides no legal exceptions for hurricane evacuations.
As difficult as it may be, my suggestion is to leave any NFA guns behind and, if possible, convert any SBR/SBS into a Title One configuration which makes it 5320.20 exempt before hightailing it for the state line.
One last thing. It hasn’t really come into play yet, but Governor Scott signed a bill into law in 2015 that exempts lawful gun owners from the concealed carry permit requirement during a mandatory evacuation order. Sounds like a great idea, right?
That’s definitely a benefit to Sunshine State gun owners, but if you cross a state line, you’re then subject to that state’s laws. Just because Georgia has reciprocity and recognizes Florida’s concealed weapons license, that does not mean they’ll extend that to unlicensed concealed carry during an evacuation order.
Nor is there a provision covering returning to your residence after the storm. So if you leave a mandatory evacuation area, you can legally conceal your handgun under the emergency declaration. But if you do the same while returning to your residence…that may not be covered. You’d hope for leeway in a post-disaster situation, but this is a classic case of a legislature that meant well, but didn’t think things through all the way.
Keeping those things in mind, Hurricane Irma — still a couple of days away — looks like the big one. Keep your ammo dry, have plenty of bottled water and canned goods, and get to know your neighbors during the inevitable power outages.
Bennett Richt is a lifelong Florida resident and NRA instructor who enjoys TTAG, puppies and long walks on the beach while carrying his SIG P320 concealed.