Controversial bills that would arm some people with concealed guns on college and school campuses will be back before the Legislature in 2016.
The two bills failed to pass the House and Senate in 2015.
One (SB 68, HB 4001), introduced by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, would allow anyone with a concealed carry license from the state to bring their guns with them on college campuses. Right now, it’s illegal to have a gun on any state college or university property.
The other (SB 72), by Evers, would give school districts the power to arm one employee or volunteer in each school. The individual would have to be a member of the military, a veteran or a current or retired law enforcement officer.
Both National Rifle Association-backed bills died in the Senate last year after committee chairs refused to schedule them for a vote. Evers said he’ll keep trying to pass them until he succeeds.
“A person should be able to exercise their Second Amendment right for their self protection of themselves as well as those around them,” he said. “It’s not even safe to go to a movie theater anymore. I think that’s more of a call for folks having self protection.”
The bill allowing concealed weapons on college campuses has proven particularly divisive, and debate on the issue began less than two months after a gunman opened fire in the library at Florida State University, wounding three people before being fatally shot by police just a mile away from the State Capitol in Tallahassee.
Opponents worry that allowing guns, particularly on college campuses, will create more dangerous situations, not prevent them.
Patti Brigham is the chairwoman of the Florida League of Women Voters’ gun safety committee. She’s been involved with planning an Aug. 13 summit in Orlando for leaders who oppose concealed carry on college campuses.
She says the biggest risk on campuses isn’t a mass shooting but the possibility of a confrontation escalating, fueled by the stress and alcohol that both find a home at universities.
“Young people are more prone to act impulsively,” Brigham said. “You’ve also got the issue of drinking on campus, and firearms and alcohol over and over again have been shown to be a really bad mix.”
Last year, the bills drew harsh criticism from campus police chiefs, as well as the Board of Governors of the State University System.
“Florida has long recognized the importance of protecting its students and the environment in which they learn by prohibiting firearms in university facilities,” university system spokeswomanBrittany Davis said in a written statement Friday. “The State University System, University Police Chiefs and all 12 of Florida’s public universities are united in the belief 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.”
Steube and Evers contend that allowing people with licenses to carry concealed weapons to do so on campuses will provide more guardrails against violence. They say people who want to commit a crime will carry a weapon on campus whether or not it’s legal and that allowing other members of the public to have weapons increases public safety.
“The facts are so abundantly clear on my side of the argument that for me it’s very easy to dismiss that just because there’s more guns makes people less safe,” Steube said. “If you have a concealed carry permit, you should have the right to defend yourself regardless of where you are.”