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Guns on campus bill discussion delayed amid emotional scene

Sen. Greg Evers this morning postponed discussion of a controversial gun bill (SB 234) that, among other things, would allow people to carry weapons onto college campuses after the father of a killed Florida State University student showed up to oppose the bill at a Senate committee hearing.

Ashley Cowie, a 20-year-old sophomore studying interior design, was killed January 9, 2011 at a fraternity party when another student accidentally discharged a rifle, according to police.  Dr. Robert Cowie described the incident during emotional testimony, telling the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that a bullet from an AK-74 went through his daughter's chest and struck a second student. He held back tears as he said how Ashley's identical twin sister Amy tried to perform CPR at the party to keep her alive.  Amy was "looking at the whole in her sister's chest with blood gushing from her mouth and she knew she was already dead," Cowie said. "But she felt compelled to do something."

Alcohol was found in the system of the shooter, 20-year-old Evan Wilhelm, police said.

"Allowing guns in an atmosphere of college parties puts everyone involved at increased and undue risk," Cowie told senators. "Would you feel more or less at risk today if I were carrying a gun?"

The bill would also allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry their guns openly and take their guns into career centers, college or university campuses, and nonpublic elementary and secondary school facilities.

Marion Hammer, longtime lobbyist for the Unified Sportsmen of Florida and a former president of the NRA, said the legislation would not have affected the Cowie's situation because Wilhelm is under 21 and could not get a concealed weapons permit. "There's a lot of safety by allowing guns on campus," she said. "That's how a lot of us protect ourselves because law enforcement can't be there when we need them. Law enforcement is not stopping rapes on campus, and not stopping a lot of crimes."

Florida State University police chief David L. Perry said he opposes the legislation. "It's our job to police the campus and keep people safe," he said. "It's not the students' responsibility."

Cowie said he did not know Florida was proposing to change a law that would allow guns on campus until recently. He spoke with the bill sponsor, Evers, just before the committee hearing began. Evers asked to see Cowie's statement. Then, Evers decided to postpone discussion of the bill.

Evers, R-Baker, said after the committee meeting that discussion was delayed on the bill because of time concerns, not because of Cowie's appearance. The committee also considered a bill that would make it illegal for doctors to ask patients if they own guns, and heard a presentation on privatizing more of the state prison system. Evers said SB 234 will get a hearing.

"I haven't really stopped and thought about (making changes)," Evers said. "He had some moving testimony and we're very sorry for his loss."