“Campus Carry” bill passes in House Judiciary Committee

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A bill that would allow people 21 and over with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on college and university campuses passed in the Florida House Judiciary Committee Thursday morning.

The bill (HB 4001), is sponsored by Sarasota Republican Greg Steube, who has been working to get guns allowed on school campuses since the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy took place in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 young children and six school administrators were killed in December of 2012. In the past two sessions, he’s redirected his legislative energies toward getting a bill passed that allows guns on college campuses.

If the bill ultimately passes in the Legislature, Florida would be come the ninth state to allow concealed weapons on college campuses. Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin and Texas have passed bills allowing concealed guns on campus.

Public discussion about the bill was mixed before the committee voted.

FSU student Shayna Lopez Rivas said she has been raped twice on campus, and said the bill would protect somebody from that every happening again. “Pass this bill. Don’t leave me defenseless again,” she asked. “This is not fantasy. This is my reality.”

Other students from FSU and UF also spoke in favor of the legislation, but there were other students who disagreed.

“We need to increase funding for security,” argued Austin Engelbrecht, Director of the Office of Governmental Affairs at Florida State University, who called its multifaceted issue.

Naples Republican Matt Hudson said he was disturbed about hearing how only five of the state’s 28 public universities had security forces on their campuses. He said the people arguing to maintain the status quo would allow further tragedies to occur on college campuses. “To leave it as is, I would argue that’s not working. You’re advocating that we not do anything about it. That’s flawed.”

The bill has bipartisan support in the committees, as both Tallahassee Democrat Michele Rehwinkle Vasilinda backed the bill, as she did when it came before the Legislature in the 2015 session.

Police chiefs at universities and university presidents in Florida oppose the bill. Palm Springs Democrat Dave Kerner went as far as to say, “It’s very clear that nobody wants this. There is no groundswell of support for this bill.”

St. Petersburg Democrat Dwight Dudley, said as the father of three college-age daughters, he wants nothing to do with such legislation.

One of the arguments from those college presidents was that it would be an unfunded mandate, with the schools having to spend money to accommodate the new law. Representative Steube blasted that notion, reading aloud from an email from a University of Florida International police chief who said that the campus would have to pay for bullet resistant windows in certain parts of the administration building, a cost that he questioned.

The bill will now go before the entire House when the 2016 legislative session officially begins in January.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.