Panic buttons installed in Florida Senate after gun rules eased
Now that the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature has passed a law making it easier for people to carry guns in the state Capitol, Democrats are noting that panic buttons have been installed on the phone of every state senator and staffer.
The new law forbids local governments from regulating guns, except in those places specified by Florida law. Although the state bans guns in legislative chambers and committee rooms, they can be carried in other parts of the Capitol complex in Tallahassee.
Security officials used to ask holders of concealed weapons to put their guns in a lockbox when entering the Capitol, according to Michael C. Bender of the Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times Tallahassee bureau. If a gun owner refused, he or she was tailed by a guard.
Under the new law, Capitol police no longer request that weapons be stored in a lockbox. Nor do they notify the sergeants-at-arms of the House and Senate when someone is carrying a gun, as they did previously.
Mike Haridopolos, the Republican Senate president, said the panic buttons were not a response to the new gun law, but a feature that had been "long planned." He said he guessed they were "just finally getting instituted."
Democrats said it seemed like an odd coincidence, given new safety courses that referred to the law's potential effect on the Capitol.
Senate Democratic leader Nan Rich, who opposed the gun law, said she was not pleased by the apparent work-around.
"Instead of reversing what we did, we're resorting to panic buttons," she said. "It's unnerving. My staff is very nervous."
The House sergeant-at-arms is considering installing panic buttons in the lower chamber's offices as well, Bender reported.
-- Richard Fausset in Atlanta
Photo: Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos speaks to reporters during a Nov. 2 news conference in Tallahassee. Credit: Steve Cannon / Associated Press