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Friday, February 13, 2015

Florida's university system takes aim at proposal to allow guns on campus

Posted By on Fri, Feb 13, 2015 at 5:24 PM

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Florida's university system wants state lawmakers to holster the idea of allowing guns on campus.

A joint statement from the university system's Board of Governors, university police chiefs and the 12 public universities expresses opposition to a legislative proposal (SB 176 and HB 4005) that would allow people with concealed-firearms licenses to carry guns at state colleges and universities.

In the statement, the university system said "that removing that long-standing protection is contrary to the values we embrace and could create new challenges in our ability to provide a safe and secure learning environment."

The university system statement, released Thursday, came after the 12 universities expressed opposition to the proposal.

"Florida has long recognized the importance of protecting its students and the environment in which they learn by prohibiting firearms in university facilities," the statement reads. "The State University System of Florida is similarly committed to the safety and security of all students, which is why university law enforcement officers have received extensive training on how to minimize harm in crisis scenarios."

The Senate version of the legislation will receive an initial test Monday, when it goes before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Sen. Greg Evers, a Baker Republican who chairs the committee, is sponsoring the bill.

Supporters of the proposal were not surprised by the university system's stance.

"I find their statement more political that factual," National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer said in an email Friday.

Erek Culbreath, president of Students for Concealed Carry at Florida State University, said in an email that his group has received "massive, albeit tacit," support from the law-enforcement community.

"With the pro-gun stance of most of Florida's sheriffs and officers, we know that this is not reflective of the beliefs of most officers," Culbreath wrote.

FSU has been at the center of much of the debate after an on-campus shooting incident in November left three people wounded. The gunman, an FSU graduate, was killed by police.

FSU President John Thrasher, a Second Amendment proponent, has publicly maintained his opposition to the proposal, reflecting a stance he took when he was a member of the Legislature.

In 2011, then-Sen. Thrasher was able to block a similar measure following the death of FSU student Ashley Cowie.

Cowie, 20, was at a fraternity party when a gun held by another FSU student accidentally discharged, sending a bullet through her chest. Her father, Robert, a Jacksonville resident and friend of Thrasher, traveled to Tallahassee to lobby against the bill, arguing that putting guns in an area where drugs and alcohol are commonly used would make campuses more dangerous.

Culbreath said in the email he doesn't think the public stance from the university system and campus police chiefs should derail this year's legislative efforts.

"The facts of the benefits of concealed carry are well known, and this is why we have seen campus carry laws spreading across the country this session, from Texas to Montana," Culbreath wrote. "The reality is the university leadership in its backward and disproven gun stance is on the wrong side of history."

The proposal is one of two gun-related measures that will go before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday.

Also up is a second attempt (SB 290) by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, to allow Floridians to carry concealed weapons without licenses during times of mandatory emergency evacuations.

Brandes proposed a similar bill last year, but it failed to pass after heavy floor debate on the second-to-last day of the 2014 session.

The Senate guns-on-campus bill must clear four committees to reach the floor. The House version of the guns-on-campus proposal was approved last month by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on a party-line vote, with Democrats opposed. It now awaits an appearance before the Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee.

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