Tallahassee FL Jan 29 2017 The threat of mass shootings has thrust a capitol hill gun fight into the heart of Florida's colleges.
Legislators and academics are scuffling over a bill that would put the rights of 1.7 million concealed carry permit holders above the wants of many of the public higher education system's 1.2 million staff and students. If it passes, the bill would end the ban against guns on public campuses for permit holders.
Similar bills have been killed the past two years - something the bill's sponsor, Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, would like to change.
Steube argued that gun-free-zones don't work because criminals don't follow the law, and he said he believes criminals target those areas because they know people are unarmed.
Case in point: Three of Florida's more-prominent recent shootings - in 2014 at Florida State University; 2016 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando; and this year at the Fort Lauderdale airport - all occurred in gun-free-zones.
Steube's solution, SB 140, sets up a situation in which the proverbial "good guys" with guns will be able to thwart would-be shooters to prevent similar tragedies.
"I think that law-abiding citizens who go through the necessary background checks and training have the right to defend themselves wherever they are," Steube said.
But there aren't many examples of average citizens stopping active shooters, and studies show that even trained officers hit their target only about 30 percent of the time - and just 18 percent when a person is shooting back.
Those statistics don't concern Steube, who noted that police are required to qualify only once a year, whereas most permit holders, including him, practice regularly.
The people whom the bill would affect most don't support it.
Since private universities are unaffected by the bill, Daytona State College is the only local higher learning institution that would have to adhere to the new law. Currently, handguns are banned at DSC unless they're stored in cars. Violators could face a $25 fine.
DSC president Tom LoBasso said he hasn't seen enough data to justify the argument that more guns make for safer campuses. The school will side with the Florida College System's Council of Presidents, which represents 28 state colleges and has opposed similar measures, LoBasso said, adding that the council has yet to discuss the new bill.
DSC Director of Campus Safety Bill Tillard said he wouldn't "feel comfortable" with concealed permit holders intervening in an active shooter situation.
"We shouldn't assume that a person who achieves a firearms license is trained to respond to a critical incident with an armed person," he said.
Campus security is not armed, but officers from the Daytona Beach Police Department who patrol the school during the busiest times are.
DSC board of trustees member Bob Davis said the threat of a mass shooting doesn't mean the entire campus needs to be armed.
"I don't see the need for guns on our campus or any other campus," Davis said. "We are well protected. We have alarms. We have the students trained. We have a manual."
Among the issue's most outspoken critics is Florida State University President and former state senator John Thrasher, a Republican who took over at FSU just 10 days before the 2014 shooting.
Thrasher, who represented parts of Volusia and Flagler counties during his legislative tenure, didn't return calls. He told the Tallahassee Democrat, "Law enforcement officials, including our own police department, other university presidents and members of the state university system are in agreement that having more guns on college campuses does not make them safer."
DSC students expressed mixed feelings.
"I don't see a reason why people should be allowed to walk around with guns," business major Javon Robinson said. "I think that would cause harm on campus. I feel like they should not allow weapons on campus at all."
Dual enrollment student Jessica Wilcox, 16, first said the bill sounded dangerous but reconsidered, saying, "I would feel a bit safer if there were multiple people with guns who wanted to stop someone from doing something bad."
She's in the minority. Most Floridians - 73 percent - think that guns have no place on campus, a 2015 USF-Nielsen Sunshine State survey says.
Eight other states allow concealed carrying on campuses, and those don't resemble the Wild West, Steube said. When asked why he was pressing for the bill when most in academia are against it, Steube, an Army veteran and son of a former Manatee County Sheriff, said he's honoring the will of his constituents.
"I just went through the most contested race in the state for my senate seat," Steube said. "At almost every door I knocked on, I was asked my stance on the Second Amendment."
Steube is also honoring the wishes of the NRA, which gave him multiple A-rated endorsements. Marion Hammer, an NRA lobbyist in Florida, said the group supports the bill.
"They (the bill's opponents) are willing to give up guns because they don't own guns," Hammer said. "It's easy for academics who don't own guns, who don't care about the constitutional rights of other people, to be against restoring rights of law-abiding people that have been unduly taken away."
As for whether more guns will make people safer, Hammer said one wouldn't find much evidence in the mainstream media.
"One thing is sure: If we continue to have gun-free-zones where terrorists can shoot innocent people at will without restoring their right to defend themselves, we're going to see a lot more of these instances," Hammer said. "Banning guns will never solve the problem. A gun-free-zone is little more than a killing field for terrorists."
DSC's Davis dismissed those arguments.
"Why do we not have stricter laws on machine guns or guns that shoot 100 bullets a minute? It's money, money, money," Davis said. "Everybody's afraid to go against what's right. We're not taking anyone's amendments away from them, but a school is no place to carry. If the students are against it, if the administrators are against it, then why force it upon people who don't want it?"
Patricia Brigham co-chair of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, questioned the bill's motives.
"What we have here in Florida are top-down bills," Brigham said. "They are not coming from grass roots. They are not coming because Floridians are clamoring for guns on campus. They are coming because of the NRA and its proponents in the halls of the Legislature."
She also said that if police have to discern armed citizens from criminals on campus, it could actually slow their response, making the situation more dangerous.
"Putting a gun on a college campus just doesn't make sense," Brigham said. "Why would you want to make a college environment more dangerous?"
Daytona Beach Journal