Education

Florida House panel approves guns on college campuses

Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota
Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota The Florida House of Representatives

The Florida House is moving quickly on a proposal to allow guns on college campuses.

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee approved the measure (HB 4005) in a party-line vote Tuesday, making it the first bill to advance in the Florida House this year.

Still, it faces a significant hurdle in the Senate. Former Republican Sen. John Thrasher, who left the upper chamber in November to become the president of Florida State University, adamantly opposes the idea.

Thrasher’s hesitancy “carries a lot of weight with a lot of senators,” Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Don Gaetz said Wednesday.

Campus safety has attracted renewed attention in Florida following a Nov. 20 shooting at FSU. Gunman Myron May wounded two students and a library employee before he was killed by police.

The incident has prompted lawmakers to reconsider Florida’s ban on concealed weapons on university grounds.

Florida is one of 20 states with such a ban, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only seven states allow the practice: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin.

The remaining states leave the decision to individual colleges and universities.

The Florida Legislature considered lifting the ban in 2011. But Thrasher blocked the move, in part because a friend’s daughter had recently died in an accidential shooting at FSU.

Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, brought the idea back for consideration this year. He said he began drafting his bill before the Nov. 20 shooting at FSU.

“School safety has always been a paramount issue that I’ve dealt with,” he said, noting that he has also filed a proposal that would let designated teachers carry concealed weapons at elementary and secondary schools.

In pitching the bill on Tuesday, Steube said a lawfully armed citizen might have stopped the gunman at FSU faster than police.

He stressed that only people with concealed weapons permits would be able to carry their weapons on campus — and that applicants for such permits in Florida must be at least 21 years old.

“These are 21-year-old adults who have gone through background checks, who have gone through training, who do not have a criminal record,” he said.

Still, the proposal met resistance from the United Faculty of Florida, the Florida Student Association, the FSU Student Government Association and other students.

“We don’t need that fear of violence,” said John Quiroz, a 22-year-old political science major at the University of South Florida.

Opponents noted that campus police are trained to handle active-shooter situations — and that FSU police killed May within minutes of his shooting spree.

But FSU Criminology Professor Gary Kleck said there was no justification for opposing Steube’s bill.

“Carry permit holders should be allowed to carry on college campuses just as they do elsewhere,” Kleck said.

The Republican members of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee agreed, saying that the proposal would ultimately make Florida colleges safer.

“If you empower people to stop violence, they can [and] they will,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.

The fact that HB 4005 was the first bill to advance in the House suggests that it will gain traction in the lower chamber.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, has said the House will consider “all factors that can contribute to stopping tragedies like [the FSU shooting] from happening in the future.”

Crisafulli has also said he is a “strong supporter” of the Second Amendment.

As for the more moderate Senate, Education Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, expects the discussion to take place. But he isn’t sure what the outcome will be.

“I have a lot of questions,” he said. “We need to talk to students, campus police departments and, of course, college presidents.”

Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.

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