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Campus Gun Fight Heats Up

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The League of Women Voters of Florida will start building a coalition Thursday to fight newly filed bills that would allow people to carry concealed weapons on college and university campuses

But Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican who is sponsoring the House version of the bill, remains undeterred. The proposal, which would apply to people who have concealed-weapons licenses, failed to pass the Legislature during the 2015 session.

"A lot of controversial things in this process take several years to accomplish," Steube said Monday while in Tallahassee for a special session on redistricting. "I've made it through every committee in the House (with the proposal), and I'm going to continue to fight for something that I personally believe in and that I think is the best policy for this state."

Steube and Senate Criminal Justice Chairman Greg Evers, R-Baker, have filed the campus-carry bills (SB 68 and HB 4001) for lawmakers to consider during the 2016 legislative session, which starts in January.

Evers and Steube also sponsored the 2015 proposal, which sparked heavy debate and drew opposition from the state university system's Board of Governors, university police chiefs and the 12 public universities. The National Rifle Association-backed proposal ultimately stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Supporters of the proposal argue, at least in part, that it would allow people to defend themselves if attacked on campuses, including in cases of sexual assault. But opponents contend that guns combined with such things as academic pressures, alcohol and drug use put students at risk.

The League of Women Voters on Thursday will help host a one-day "Gun Safety Summit" at the First Unitarian Church of Orlando to put together the new coalition and to address the campus-carry proposal.

The goal is to make the opposition stronger than during the 2015 session, by uniting with students, professors, administrators and the national organization Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, said Patti Brigham, chair of the league's Gun Safety Committee.

"College campuses are safe places," Brigham said. "Guns have no place there unless carried by police."

Steube said he'd like to hear personally from some of the opponents, something he felt was missing from the 2015 debate on the issue.

"With all the things that unfortunately are happening in our world --- shootings in Chattanooga at a recruiting station, shootings at movie theaters --- I think law-abiding citizens should have the right to defend themselves, and that Second Amendment right shouldn't be stripped simply because they walk on to a college campus," Steube said.

Steube had a brief discussion about the campus-carry proposal with Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, on the House floor after Monday's session.

"I don't think bringing additional guns on campus is the right way to go about doing it," Williams said.

Williams said he's working to bring to Tallahassee for the 2016 session gun-control advocates from groups such as Americans for Responsible Solutions, which was founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.; the Washington, D.C.-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence; and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

"We started 'stand your ground,' " Williams said, referring to legislative approval of a controversial self-defense law. "We want to make sure we don't start anything else that's going to be detrimental to not only our state and our citizens but other states and their citizens."

Another controversial gun-related measure (SB 72) proposed for the 2016 session would allow designated employees or volunteers to carry concealed weapons at public schools and other educational facilities. The bill, filed by Evers, is virtually identical to a proposal that failed to pass during the 2015 session.

Under the bill, school superintendents could designate trained people to carry weapons on school grounds. Those people could be honorably discharged military veterans, active-duty members of the military, National Guard or reserves or active-duty or former law-enforcement officers. The measure would not require school superintendents to make such appointments.