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Guns on campus bill advances in Florida Senate

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A bill filed by Crestview Republican Greg Evers that would allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns onto college and university campuses moved along in the state Senate on Monday.

The Senate Higher Education Committee voted along party lines to advance the bill.   An identical bill in the House sponsored by Greg Steube has also passed its first committee. It now sits in the House Higher Education and Workforce subcommittee.

The bill is opposed by Florida State University President John Thrasher and the other 11 public university presidents in the state, as well as campus police chiefs and the system’s Board of Governors.

It’s also opposed by large numbers of students on the FSU campus, according to Harrison DuBosar, government affairs adviser for FSU’s student government. He said that “there’s a general frustration from the students at FSU that they’re not being heard,” regarding the controversial issue.

Based on the reaction he got from GOP lawmakers on the committee today, they’re still not.

“In the 31 states that don’t prohibit against (guns on campuses), what’s the evidence that students are in more danger or have more accidents?” asked Niceville Senator Don Gaetz. “Can you site the evidence?”

DuBosar said he could not.

“How many rapes and sexual assaults have you had on campus?” Fort Myers Senator Lizabeth Benacquisto questioned DuBosar. She said it was “unfair” of him to suggest that a young man or woman on campus shouldn’t have private protection to safeguard against wrongdoers on college campuses.

There were several members from the public calling themselves Students for Concealed Carry at FSU who also took exception to DuBosar’s poll that reported that large numbers of students on the Tallahassee campus are opposed to the legislation.

According to the group Everytown for Gun Safety, NRA-backed lawmakers in 14 different states — Florida, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Nevada, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming — have introduced legislation to allow students to carry guns on campus this year.

Marion Hammer, leader of the NRA’s Florida chapter, quoted statistics from Emily’s List that said that one in five female college students are sexually assaulted. “They called it an epidemic of sexual assaults on our college campuses,” she said, adding that according to the group, 95 percent of such crimes are never reported. “Pass this bill,” she declared.

With the meeting last less than 90 minutes, there were many more folks for and against the measure who didn’t get the opportunity to speak. One man who did, Tallahassee pediatrician Paul Robinson, claimed that there would be more accidental deaths and  suicides if guns are allowed on Florida college campuses.

When asked by Senator Gaetz what proof did he have that was true, Robinson cited a study done by doctor and professor Arthur Kellerman back in 1993 regarding gun ownership as a risk factor in the home.  But Gaetz immediately dismissed it, calling it outdated, often criticized and “not on point today,” saying it looked at guns in the home, not on college campuses.

“The reason to vote no would be because there’s evidence that states which permit carry-on campus, experience among those who are on campus, a greater likelihood of suicides, or crimes, or tragedies. That would be my reason to vote no on the bill. If that evidence were presented,” Gaetz said. “The evidence has not only not been presented in this committee, it has not been presented in any committee.”

But Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner recalled the incident on FSU’s campus last November when campus police shot and killed a gunman who had shot at students and employees. But if the circumstances were different, she asked,  “If students were all – if both the madman and the students were exchanging fire, how do police know who the good guys are?”

The bill still has a way to go in the Senate, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli has said he’s not sure if the bill will have enough support to get through the Legislature and onto Governor Rick Scott’s desk.

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.

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