Though the topic of firearm legislation and gun control is sure to cause a heated dinner table debate, taking a deep dive into concrete, on-the-books state law helps ground those debates in all-important fact. And in a state like Florida – which has a per-capita firearm ownership rate of 16.35 and about 343,288 total guns in circulation, according 2017 gun registration statistics from the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – those laws are more essential than ever.
While Florida gun statutes – particularly Title XLVI, Chapter 790, regarding weapons and firearms – do mention some specific laws for shotguns, this type of powerful firearm isn't always singled out in state law. For the most part, shotgun laws in Florida fall under the umbrella of the state's general gun laws, which are laid out in the Florida Statutes and the 1968 Constitution of Florida. In studying laws such as these, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave Florida an "F" grade – that's on an "A" through "F" scale – on its state scorecard.
The right to bear arms greets readers front-and-center in the first article of Florida's constitution, but that right is just the tip of the legal iceberg.
Shotgun Laws in Florida: Purchasing
According to Florida gun laws in 2018, non-prohibited persons of at least age 21 may legally acquire, possess and transfer both firearms and ammunition, including shotguns (Florida law does prohibit, however, civilian ownership of most fully automatic weapons and machine guns manufactured after 1986). Prohibited persons include people convicted of a felony or potential firearms purchasers under 24 years of age who have been convicted of delinquent acts that would be considered felonious if committed by an adult. Those who have been issued a currently effective final injunction restraining them from committing acts of domestic violence or those defined as a violent career criminal by Florida law are also unable to legally purchase guns in the state. Persons who fall under these categories may even have their firearms revoked. On the flip side, a minor may purchase or possess a gun with the permission of his parent or legal guardian, though possession and usage is limited to legal recreational activities under the supervision of a legal guardian or certified instructor.
Although the law requires licensed gun dealers to keep a solid record of every firearm or ammunition purchase, sale or transfer, civilians in the Sunshine State are not required to register their firearms at the time of purchase or transfer, nor are they required to have a license. Similarly, private sale and transfer of guns is perfectly legal in the state. In a surprising bit of legislative minutia, it is not unlawful in the state of Florida to run a business dealing firearms without a valid gun dealer's license. Gun shows and other temporary firearm dealing events, in similar fashion, are not regulated. The breadth of these laws covers shotguns in the state where applicable.
While private gun sales don't require any sort of background check, licensed gun dealers in the state (of which there are about 7,500, per 2015 figures) must screen buyers with an official background check. Upon the background check's approval by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the minimum lawful waiting period is three days (excluding weekends or holidays) before the purchaser can take legal possession of the firearm. The amount and variety of guns that any one buyer can purchase from a single gun dealer is not limited.
One aspect of purchasing a rifle or shotgun in Florida is rather unique. According to section 790.06 of Title XLVI in the 2018 Florida Statutes, the mandatory waiting period for gun purchases is waived for shotguns and rifles if the purchaser has successfully completed, at minimum, a 16-hour hunter safety course and can present a hunter safety certification card. Law enforcement and correctional officers purchasing shotguns and rifles are also exempt from the waiting period in the state.
Carrying a Shotgun in Florida
Whether you've got a shotgun, handgun or rifle, laws in the Everglade State prohibit civilians from carrying any sort of firearm in plain view in a public place, lest they risk a second-degree misdemeanor charge. So that means no open-carry enthusiasts at the park or grocery store. With a permit, however, carrying most sorts of concealed firearms in public is allowed. Like rifles, Florida law does not require a permit for carrying a shotgun in general, but it is against state law to carry a concealed rifle or shotgun.
That shotgun is also in the legal clear when it's transported in a private vehicle, as long as it is otherwise within the bounds of the law and not concealed on a person's body. When stowed in a "private conveyance" (law speak for a vehicle), guns must either be securely encased – whether it be, in a shotgun's case, in a gun case, securely holstered or zippered pouch – or not easily accessible for immediate use. Though these firearms may be concealed within the vehicle, the vehicle may not enter places where guns are legally prohibited. Gun owners are not required to notify law enforcement officers of the presence of a firearm, and "no weapons" signs are not legally enforced when the firearm is otherwise within legal bounds.
Some restrictions do apply to these carry laws for all sorts of guns. If you're in a police station, jail or detention facility, prison, courtroom, polling place, most state property (excluding state parks), airport, mental health institution, pharmacy, school, bar or restaurant, firearms are a no-go – whether it's a shotgun or handgun, concealed or in the open. Guns are also prohibited in what state law defines as a "place of nuisance" – basically, a place where illegal activities are conducted. But you probably shouldn't be there anyway, and definitely not with your shotgun in tow.
Ammunition Laws in Florida
Alongside armor-piercing rounds, bolo shells and flechette shells, an explosive variety of shotgun shells known as "dragon's breath," are prohibited by ammunition laws in Florida (per section 790.31 of Title XLVI). This 12-gauge shotgun shell is packed with magnesium, causing the gun's barrel to explode with a fireworks-like display of sparks upon firing.
There won't be a whole lot of sunshine for dealers of these types of illegal shotgun rounds in the Sunshine State; Florida gun statutes define the manufacture, sale or delivery of these sorts of rounds as a third-degree felony. Possession of armor-piercing rounds or illegal shotgun shells is also a third-degree felony, while possession with intent to use them in a criminal act is a second-degree felony.
The 2018 Bill
Following the February, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, demand for heightened gun control laws forced the Florida state legislature into action. Passed just three weeks after the shooting, Governor Rick Scott signed into law the first successful gun control measures the state had seen in over two decades.
Prior to these new laws, the minimum age for gun purchases in Florida was 18, not 21 (perhaps a response to the Parkland shooter, who was able to purchase the firearm used in the crime at age 19). The legislation also makes bump stocks – accessories which increase the firing rate of certain rifles when equipped – illegal in the state. Controversially, the bill allows superintendents and sheriffs to arm school personnel, creating an exception to the state's general carry laws. Despite support for more stringent background checks – a provision that may have affected even shotgun sales – buoyed by post-Parkland activists and bipartisan support, the bill did not institute any changes in the state's background check process for firearm purchases.
More to Know
If you're a big fan of "Mad Max" or "Terminator 2," you might be wondering: Are sawed-off shotguns legal in Florida? According to section 790.221 of the Florida Statutes Title XLVI – that would be the "Crimes" section – the answer is a clear "no." On the panhandle, it's illegal to possess a short-barreled shotgun, rifle or machine gun. Florida gun statutes define "short-barreled" as having one or more barrels measuring less than 18 inches in length or, more broadly, as "any weapon made from a shotgun (whether by alteration, modification, or otherwise) if such weapon as modified has an overall length of less than 26 inches." Anyone with a short-barreled shotgun or rifle in her care, custody or possession may be slapped with a second-degree felony charge.
Florida law requires that firearms must bear a unique identifying mark, while the ballistic characteristics of each civilian firearm and its respective ammunition are recorded in a state register.
Though application of this law may vary in use cases, a shotgun is interestingly not defined as a "destructive device" by Florida gun statutes, unless it's a short-barreled (i.e., "sawed off") shotgun. The same goes for shotgun shells, cartridges and ammunition.
Hunting Laws and Shotguns
From deer to doves to wild hogs, Florida hosts a wide variety of wild game hunting opportunities, which means that its various hunting seasons come with their own gun-related laws and regulations outlined by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Licensed and permitted hunters in Florida may hunt and take resident game birds and game mammals with shotguns, in addition to rifles, pistols, pre-charged pneumatic air guns, muzzle loaders and various sorts of bows. Despite the game's diminutive size, shotguns of any size are permitted for use even during gray squirrel season. And speaking of diminutive prey, shotguns are the only type of firearm hunters are allowed to use to take doves in the early fall hunting season. These shotguns must have a capacity of three shells or less (counting both the magazine and the chamber). Shotguns larger than 10-gauge are prohibited. These rules also apply to hunting migratory fowl – including ducks, geese and coots – with shotguns. When taking waterfowl, only nontoxic shotgun shells are allowed. Lead shot isn't just illegal to shoot at game, it's illegal to have in your possession while hunting. Iron, bismuth-tin and tungsten alloys ammunition is acceptable.
As elsewhere, exceptions do apply on the hunt. Rimfire shotgun cartridges may not be used to take deer, and taking game by shooting from moving vehicles is prohibited. While you may not need a license to possess a shotgun for self-defense in Florida, you will need a license to hunt with one – a Florida hunting license, that is. Whether you're out for game with a rifle, muzzle loader, pistol or shotgun, you can obtain all the necessary licenses and permits online GoOutDoorsFlorida.com, over the phone at 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or in-person at the county tax collector's office. For residents, hunting licenses cost $17 for the year; nonresidents can opt to pay $46 for 10 days or $151.50 for 12 months.