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Fla. bill would allow concealed weapons on college campuses

By SCOTT TRAVIS | Sun Sentinel (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 21, 2015

A bill allowing concealed weapons on college campuses in Florida may have a shot at becoming law.

House Bill 4005, sponsored by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, received support Tuesday from the House of Representatives' Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Republicans on the committee supported it, while the Democratic minority opposed it.

The legislation would authorize those with valid permits to carry guns on public colleges and universities. Permit holders must be a least 21, unless they're in the military, and must not have felonies or drug-related convictions.

Supporters say the law is needed in the wake of campus shootings such as the one in November at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Three students were injured before police shot and killed the gunman.

"What I'm trying to do is prevent further loss of life by giving God-fearing and law-abiding citizens who have gone through background checks the ability to defend themselves and their families," Steube said.

But opponents are fired up as well, telling lawmakers that guns don't belong on college campuses, which are full of young people and alcohol.

"Universities are a place where students go to expand their knowledge, not to constantly live in fear," Jake Elpern, a member of the FSU College Democrats, told the lawmakers. "I urge you to vote against this and keep our colleges and universities safe."

Many faculty members have also expressed concerns. FSU's faculty union voted to oppose the measure, arguing that in a dangerous situation, it might be difficult for police to know who the aggressor is.

"When you're discussing student grades or progress, the conversations can get very out of hand," said Brian Lupiani, a retired faculty member at FSU. "If someone comes in carrying a loaded weapon, the only way I could see to defend myself is to carry a loaded gun in my hand the entire time we're talking. You're just adding too much fuel to a possible fire."

Law enforcement officers at most colleges oppose allowing guns anywhere on campus, saying it increases the likelihood the guns will be used or stolen. Their opposition helped defeat a similar bill in 2011.

Supporters of the bill dispute the notion that gun-free policies keep people safe.

"Violent perpetrators do not follow your rules," said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. "You can put out as many gun-free rules as you want. They don't care. That what they're looking for."

Under current law, students or employees with a concealed weapon permit can only bring a stun gun or a nonlethal electric weapon. The device cannot fire a dart or projectile.

Those who are not students or employees cannot carry any type of gun. However, state law was changed last year to allow people to legally keep guns stored in their cars while on campus.

Florida is one of 20 states that currently ban the practice. In 23 states, the decision is determined by each college and university. Seven states have laws allowing them: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin.

The University of Colorado in 2012 created a "gun dorm" for permit holders, but it attracted little interest from students after it launched.

Greg Evers, R-Pensacola, has filed an identical bill in the Senate, but it hasn't been scheduled for a committee hearing yet.

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