Florida Gun Law & Shotgun Length Laws

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Florida has some of the most liberal gun laws in the nation and, coincidentally, always places in the top five states when it comes to mass shootings. Whether the two are related is a matter of opinion, but the Florida legislature's avid support of gun-owner rights is not open to question. The laws on the books include a "shall issue" law for concealed handgun permits.

However, possession or sale of short-barreled shotguns (with a barrel length under 18 inches) and machine guns is illegal in Florida, and a short waiting period is imposed between purchase from a dealer and possession. Anyone living in Florida or thinking of moving there would do well to get a complete overview of the state's gun laws and regulations.

State Constitution Protects Gun Rights

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms. This amendment has been viewed and interpreted in different ways by different states, many attempting to limit its effect though gun control laws. Florida, far from restricting this right, includes it in the state constitution, Article I, Section 8.

In addition, the Florida state legislature incorporated a declaration of policy on this issue in its Weapons and Firearms statute. In that declaration, it states that adult citizens of the state of Florida retain their constitutional right to keep and bear firearms "for hunting and sporting activities and for defense of self, family, home and business, and as collectibles."

Florida Preempts Gun Regulations

Since 1987, the Florida legislature has preempted local gun regulations throughout the state. The law makes it clear that municipalities and localities cannot impose further restrictions on firearms, other than enacting zoning laws that restrict where commercial gun traders can locate their businesses. The Florida legislature occupies the entire field of regulation of both firearms and ammunition, and this specifically includes the important aspects of owning a gun, like purchase, sale, transfer, taxation, manufacture, ownership, possession and transport.

When the legislature first enacted, and the governor signed, the preemption legislation, the bill did not include any penalties for municipalities violating the statute. Some city and county governments took advantage of this and simply ignored the preemption law, imposing their own stricter codes. This ended in 2011 when the governor signed a bill adding penalties for violating the preemption statute. Possible penalties for officials ignoring the mandated preemption include civil fines and expulsion from public office. The teeth were taken out of the penalties law however when the statute was found unconstitutional.

Florida Waiting Period

Anyone 21 years or older can buy a gun in Florida, while persons under 21, but at least 18 years old, can get one with their parents' permission. No permit is necessary to buy or keep a rifle, shotgun or handgun. However, the state makes it illegal for a felon to own or possess, or have in their control or care, any firearm unless they have had their civil rights restored.

There is, however, a waiting period of three business days imposed by law between the purchase and the delivery of a handgun from a licensed dealer. And there is no waiting period requirement at all for buyers holding a concealed carry permit.

Florida Background Checks

There is no requirement in the state for any type of background check on private gun sales. However, when someone buys a gun from a licensed firearms dealer, a background check is required. The buyer must complete a form provided by the dealer, and the Department of Law Enforcement must approve the transfer, pending the background check of the buyer.

There are quite a few exceptions to this background check requirement. The law excepts other licensed dealers, law enforcement and military personnel, and individuals who have already obtained a permit to carry concealed weapons. It also excepts:

  • Transactions where the gun owner is trading in another firearm.
  • Rifle or shotgun buyers who have successfully completed a hunter safety course.
  • Purchasers who are exempted from the hunter safety course requirements and hold a valid Florida hunting license.

What about gun registration? Florida gun laws do not require that any type of weapon be registered. On the other hand, openly carrying a gun is generally not permitted except in very narrow circumstances.

Florida's Conceal Carry Law

On the other hand, Florida does require that an individual obtain a license to carry a concealed handgun, but the law makes this a "shall issue" license. That means that concealed carry licenses must be, and are, routinely granted to both Florida residents and Florida nonresidents as long as they meet the minimal requirements.

The statute provides: The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shall issue a license if the applicant is a citizen or a resident of the country and has not been convicted of a felony or found guilty of any laws relating to controlled substances within the past three years. Also, the applicant must not currently "chronically and habitually" use alcoholic beverages or other substances to the extent that his or her normal faculties are impaired. The applicant can demonstrate competence with a firearm by taking any of a number of firearm safety or training classes, or is serving or has served in the military.

Conceal Carry Permits

A concealed carry permit, once issued, is valid for seven years from the date of issue. There are nearly 2 million concealed carry licenses currently valid in Florida. Note that Florida concealed carry license is the only one in the country that allows licensees to not only carry a concealed handgun, but also other weapons like electronic weapons, tear gas guns, batons and knives.

Florida statutes list the places where an individual with a license is not permitted to conceal carry; these include police stations, polling places, schools and jails. What about churches? In 2121, the Florida governor signed into law a bill authorizing persons who have concealed weapons or firearms licenses to carry firearms on the property of religious institutions unless the property owner or religious institution specifically forbids it.

Legality of Carrying Guns in Cars

Anyone who has a rifle or shotgun can transport the firearm in their vehicle without a license under Florida Criminal Statutes Section 790.251, the Preservation and Protection of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Motor Vehicles Act of 2008. This law prohibits an employer from restricting customers or employees from keeping a legally owned firearm locked inside a private motor vehicle in a parking lot.

Guns carried in vehicles in Florida must not be held by a person or intended for immediate use. Instead, the guns must be securely encased in gun gloves or special gun compartments, gun cases, closed boxes, or containers that require opening before taking out the gun and using it. Areas where guns cannot be taken in vehicles include school properties, national defense facilities, prisons, nuclear power plants, and other restricted areas.

Reciprocity With Other States

Florida accepts concealed carry permits from all states that will accept Florida's concealed carry permits. This includes over 35 states, although a few states accept Florida's concealed carry permits for Florida residents, but not for Florida nonresidents. When a gun owner brings a gun into Florida from one of the states that accepts Florida permits, they are not required to get an additional permit to carry it.

However, if someone brings a gun into Florida from a state that does not recognize Florida permits, they will need to get a Florida permit when they arrive. States that do not recognize Florida permits include California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, New York, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Shotgun Barrel Length

The overall length of the barrel of a gun is important in Florida. That's because a license is required to carry a handgun, but not a shotgun or a rifle. It is also important because short-barreled shotguns, like short-barreled rifles and machine guns, are illegal in the state under Florida Criminal Code Section 790.221.

A short-barreled shotgun, under state law, is a shotgun with at least one barrel that is less than 18 inches long. (This is also the definition under federal law.) A short-barreled rifle is defined as a rifle having one or more barrels less than 16 inches in length and any weapon made from a rifle whether by alteration, modification, or otherwise if such weapon as modified has an overall length of less than 26 inches.

Illegal possession of a short-barreled rifle, short-barreled shotgun or machine gun is a second-degree felony in Florida and carries a penalty of up to 15 years imprisonment and up to a $10,000 fine.

Bump-Fire Stocks

Note that it is also illegal to import, sell, possess or distribute bump-fire stocks in Florida. The statute defines bump-fire stock to mean a conversion kit, a tool, an accessory or a device used to change the rate of fire of a firearm so that it is like automatic weapon fire, or which is used to increase the rate of fire to a faster rate than is possible for a person to fire a semiautomatic firearm unassisted.

Florida Stand-Your-Ground Home Defense Laws

In 2005, Florida was the first state to enact a stand-your-ground law, often called the Florida Castle Doctrine. Although the term Castle Doctrine doesn't appear in Florida statutes, the concept comes from the premise that "a man's home is his castle," and individuals should not be required to retreat before using force or deadly force against an intruder in self-defense. Unlike many similar state laws, Florida's Castle Doctrine extends authority to protect oneself with whatever force is deemed necessary in homes, other dwellings and occupied vehicles.

This law provides that an individual who is threatened or attacked in a place where they have a lawful right can stand their ground and meet force with force. Under these statutes, a person can use deadly force in Florida under the stand-your-ground law if they reasonably believe that deadly force is required to prevent great bodily harm or death to themselves or others around them.

The Castle Doctrine laws include a powerful presumption of reasonableness. Under these statutes, law enforcement and the courts must presume reasonable an individual’s belief that it was necessary to use force or deadly force against an imminent threat. This puts the burden on a prosecutor to show that the defendant’s fear of death or great bodily harm was unreasonable.