Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau
Published: January 20, 2015
TALLAHASSEE — In the wake of a November shooting at Florida State University, a bill that would allow guns on college campuses in Florida cleared its first legislative committee Tuesday.
The House Criminal Justice subcommittee approved the bill (HB 4005) by an 8-4 party-line vote. It would repeal the current prohibition on concealed-weapon license holders from bringing a firearm onto the grounds of a public college or university.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Greg Steube of Sarasota, said he drew up the bill before the FSU shooting, in which 31-year-old Myron May shot three people in and around the campus library.
No one was killed but one person was paralyzed; May was shot and killed by police shortly after.
“God forbid that we have to deal with this in the state again,” said Steube, an Iraq War veteran and concealed-weapon license holder.
“What I’m trying to do is prevent loss of life by giving God-fearing, law-abiding citizens … the ability to defend themselves,” he added.
Seven states now allow “concealed carry” on college campuses, according to a staff analysis: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin.
Last session, a bill failed that would have let K-12 school principals or district superintendents designate specific employees who could carry concealed weapons on school grounds.
Stuebe’s bill is supported by the National Rifle Association and Florida Carry, a nonprofit group that opposes “ill-conceived gun control laws,” according to its website.
It’s opposed by Florida State president John Thrasher, known for his conservative stands when he was a legislator.
“I’m a Second Amendment person; I believe in the Second Amendment; I’ve supported gun rights,” Thrasher told the Tallahassee Democrat. “But just like in the First Amendment, there are exceptions. When it comes to guns on campus, the consequences far outweigh the positives.”
In public comment, Marjorie Sanfilippo, an associate dean and psychology professor at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, told lawmakers that “allowing upset students to carry concealed weapons would, without a doubt, increase the risk of violence toward me and colleagues.”
Brent Hargrove, whose son and daughter-in-law are students, said allowing licensed gun-owners to bring their weapons on campus would “eliminate a pool of possible victims … The ‘good guy’ is the kind of person that has a concealed weapon permit.”
But Steve Downey, another parent of a college parent, said he didn’t want to “relinquish the job of campus safety to … unaccountable and unknown ‘good guys.’”
In debate, Rep. Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican, pointed out that concealed weapon license holders in Florida must be at least 21 and undergo background checks and firearm safety training.
“These are adults,” she said. “They know what they’re doing. I want my daughter to be on a campus where she has the protection of someone who taken those steps.”
Rep. Clovis Watson Jr., an Alachua County Democrat and 20-year law enforcement veteran, had concerns about students having guns where police are responding to reports of a shooter.
When police first show up on a scene, “we don’t know who’s the good and the bad guy; that is the problem,” he said. “It puts (law enforcement) in a grave situation.”
Rep. Dennis Baxley, the Ocala Republican who sponsored what is now Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law in 2005, argued that gun-free school zones have only contributed to putting college students in danger.
“The only thing that will stop an out of control person with a firearm who is killing people is a good guy with a firearm,” he said.
The bill will next be considered by the House’s Higher Education & Workforce subcommittee. A companion measure is in the Senate.