Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Florida’s answer to campus crime: beer chugging, pistol-packin’ frat boys

Twelve Florida university presidents begged them to kill the bill. Twelve campus police chiefs signed the same statement, beseeching legislators to leave this gun craziness alone.

The university system’s Board of Governors was opposed. “Florida has long recognized the importance of protecting its students and the environment in which they learn by prohibiting firearms in university facilities.”

Faculty senates and student governments similarly opposed legislation that would end the prohibition of concealed firearms on college campuses. Not that those particular entities carry any political weight in Tallahassee. But still ...

A sure-nuff powerbroker, Florida State University President John Thrasher, reiterated his opposition. Thrasher managed to kill a similar “campus carry” bill in 2011, when he was a state senator. You’d think that he might wield some clout among his old buddies.

Not hardly. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted 3-2 last week in favor of the guns-on-campus bill (SB 176), with three of Thrasher’s fellow Republicans accounting for the majority. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee had already approved an identical bill.

This thing seems headed for passage because the only opinion that mattered trumped the arguments of all those nattering academics. Hers was like the voice of God, at least to those who imagine God substituted “Stand Thou Ground” for that un-American commandment to refrain from killing folks. Marion Hammer, who also speaks for the all-powerful NRA, warned the legislators that Florida college campuses have become jungles of savage horrors. “They are gun-free zones where murderers, rapists, terrorists, crazies may commit crime without fear of being harmed by their victims.”

Gracious. Did she mention zombies? And me a trained observer. Yet I somehow missed those lurking dangers last year when I took my daughter on a tour of college campuses. Neither of us packing heat. I see now that we were damn lucky to make it out alive.

Next year, God (read “Marion”) willing, it’ll all be different. After this legislation passes, Floridians will be able to send their children off to college knowing that their kids’ classmates, who might appear to be falling-down-drunk frat boys, are actually armed vigilantes, ready to intervene with a hail of bullets in case of rape, robbery, assault or perhaps an unkind aspersion.

The campus-carry legislation has been pushed before, unsuccessfully, but the gun lobby has got itself a clever new tactic, latching onto the national conversation about sexual assault on college campuses. Sen. Greg Evers, chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee and an NRA good ol’ boy, held up a map of Tallahassee and (according to the Florida Times-Union) warned that some 100 sex offenders resided in the vicinity of FSU. Evers said he only wanted to give young women the means to protect themselves.

‘Bullet in their head’

The NRA gun is pushing boilerplate campus-carry legislation in at least nine other states, using the same anti-rape ploy. Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, talking to The New York Times, got right to the heart of the pro-gun argument. “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.”

That last sentence represents what we in the newspaper business call indisputable truth. Gunshots to the head would certainly discourage sexual assault. Though a few of those wormy academic types have noted that a campus carry law could also have the effect of arming predators.

The sexual assaults that prompted the national conversation about campus safety are not of the predator-jumping-out-of-the-bushes category. The famous but now discredited story that got everyone talking, “A Rape on Campus,” in the Nov. 19 issue of Rolling Stone, was about a young woman who claimed to have been assaulted during a frat house ritual after she had fallen into a drugged stupor. Last year’s unproven allegations against FSU’s All-American quarterback Jameis Winston also involved claims from the victim that she had been drugged first, then assaulted. It’s hard to imagine that this kind of acquaintance assault, with the help of knock-out drugs, would have been thwarted by gunplay.

The other specter used to sell the campus-carry bill has to do with crazed, random gunmen. Gun advocates talked about Myron May, the 31-year-old lawyer who shot three people on the FSU campus on Nov. 20 before campus police gunned him down. Armed students, legislators were told, could have preempted May’s shooting spree.

Cold, hard facts

That scenario is built around the supposition that amid sudden burst of gun violence, student shooters would be cool and effective — more effective than firearm-trained police officers. Who, it turns out, aren’t so accurate under pressure. Consider the infamous Urban Beach weekend shooting on Miami Beach in 2011. Miami Beach and Hialeah police officers fired 116 bullets at a car driven by 22-year-old Raymond Herisse. True, they killed Herisse, but four innocent bystanders were wounded in the frenetic barrage.

In 2013, New York cops tried to gun down an erratic-acting man in Times Square. They missed their target (who turned out to be unarmed) but wounded two women. The year before, police injured nine onlookers as they shot at an armed man near the Empire State Building.

Those errant police shootings corroborated the findings of a 2008 RAND Corporation study that found the average “hit rate” among New York cops during gunfights between 1998 and 2006 was just 18 percent. When suspects weren’t firing back, the cops hit their targets just 30 percent of the time.

Another 2008 breakdown of NYPD shooting stats found that the police were accurate about 34 percent of the time when they fired at people. (Better, it turns out than the Los Angeles PD, which was only accurate 31 percent of the time.)

But Florida parents can take heart. If student vigilantes shoot as well as New York cops, they can stop worrying about the menace of puppy attacks on college campuses. Police shooting at dogs managed to hit the canines 55 percent of the time.

I forgot. Did the omniscient Marion mention mad dogs among campus horrors that could be remedied by student gunslingers? Well, scratch Fido off her hit list.