FSU shooting revives debate over guns on college campuses

The Florida State University Marching Chiefs play during the Gathering of Unity candlelight vigil on campus after the shooting of three FSU students earlier in the day on November 20, 2014 in Tallahassee.
The Florida State University Marching Chiefs play during the Gathering of Unity candlelight vigil on campus after the shooting of three FSU students earlier in the day on November 20, 2014 in Tallahassee. Getty Images

Last Thursday’s shooting at Florida State University has spurred a renewed call for allowing guns on college campuses.

Among those leading the charge: Nathan Scott, one of three people shot and wounded last week when Myron May opened fire at the FSU library. Scott is part of a group called Students for Concealed Carry at Florida State, which on Tuesday asked state lawmakers to allow concealed-weapon permit holders to carry firearms on college grounds.

Their request might resonate in Tallahassee, especially with the powerful National Rifle Association echoing the call.

The NRA’s Tallahassee lobbyist Marion Hammer said Tuesday that she hopes to have a “thoughtful, deliberative” conversation on the subject when the Legislature reconvenes.

“We’re not going to rush into it emotionally, like a lot of people do after a tragedy,” Hammer said. “But the reality is, there is a ban of guns on campus, and that did not stop an attacker. The law never stops the bad guy. It only stops the good guys from being able to protect themselves and others.”

It was too soon to say how legislative leaders would respond.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said the community needed time to grieve over what happened at FSU, as well as Saturday’s fatal shooting of Leon County Deputy Chris Smith. But Crisafulli said the time would come to discuss legislation.

“When it does, we’ll consider all factors that can contribute to stopping tragedies like this from happening in the future,” he said, adding that he is a “strong supporter of the Second Amendment.”

A spokeswoman for Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said Gardiner has a policy of not commenting on legislation that has not yet been filed.

Florida is one of 20 states that bans carrying a concealed weapon on college campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Lawmakers discussed changing that in 2011 as part of a broader proposal to let concealed-weapon permit holders carry their firearms more openly. But the weapons restrictions for college campuses remained in place, thanks largely to efforts by then state Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

Thrasher recently became president at Florida State. He did not return calls from the Herald/Times on Tuesday.

When he fought to keep guns off campuses three years ago, Thrasher told reporters it was “beyond personal.” His friend’s daughter was fatally shot in a FSU fraternity house earlier that year.

Those calling for guns on college campuses say it is a matter of self defense.

“These shootings are happening all across the nation and you are seeing students die left and right,” said Erek Culbreath, the president of Students for Concealed Carry at FSU. “It gets to a point where we need to be able to protect ourselves.”

Culbreath called the response from FSU police “great,” but said an armed adult on the scene could have diffused the situation even faster.

He noted that most undergraduate students would not be able to carry on campus. Concealed-weapon permits are issued only to people who are 21 and older, unless the applicant has been honorably discharged from the military.

“These would be adults, who have the right training and background checks,” Culbreath said.

Scott, who was shot in the leg Thursday, declined to comment directly to the Herald/Times. His name and opinion were included in a press release issued by the group Tuesday.

Others at Florida State are skeptical.

Faculty union President Jennifer Proffitt, a professor in the communications department, pointed out that police killed May within minutes of the shooting spree.

She said more weapons on the scene would have made the situation more dangerous. “We don’t need shootouts on Landis Green,” she said, naming the lawn outside FSU’s Strozier Library.

Student Government Association President Stefano Cavallaro agreed.

“In an active-shooter situation on campus, the last thing campus police need is multiple gunmen who could potentially be engaged in a shootout,” he said. “This could create a very confusing and dangerous situation for the students involved, as well as those around a potential incident area.”

State lawmakers are also likely to discuss allowing concealed weapons on the campuses of elementary and secondary schools.

The day before the FSU shooting, state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, filed a proposal that would allow designated employees with training to carry firearms at schools.

This will be the third year Steube has filed the bill. It won the support of three House committees earlier this year, but failed in the Senate.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.

Related stories from Miami Herald