With last week’s abrupt adjournment by the House and the end to the 2015 regular legislative session, the Florida Legislature again squandered an opportunity to promote safety on college campuses.
Florida Statute 790.06(12) prohibits students, faculty and employees, even those with concealed-carry permits, from possessing firearms on college campuses. A bill to repeal this statute made it out of both the House and Senate Judiciary committees, but was never brought to the Senate floor for a vote.
The well-meaning but naïve assumption behind the current law was that colleges would be safer if potential victims were disarmed and campuses declared gun-free zones. The defect in this wishful thinking is that criminals do not obey laws, and when only the law-abiding are disarmed, schools (Columbine, Sandy Hook), universities (Northern Illinois University, Virginia Tech), military bases (Ft. Hood), and movie theaters (Aurora) become free-fire zones for killers.
We have had too many examples of this, both on and off college campuses.
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On Jan. 16, 2002, an expelled student returned to the Appalachian Law School campus and killed three persons and wounded three others before he was stopped by two students who retrieved their guns from their cars, pointed their guns at the shooter, and ordered him to drop his weapon.
Five years later, on April 17, 2007, a Virginia Tech student was able to massacre 32 students and wound 17 others because none of his victims had access to a gun.
While Virginia law permitted concealed-carry permit holders to carry guns on college campuses, the law permitted colleges to opt-out and prohibit guns. By exercising that opt-out clause, Virginia Tech administrators disarmed the victims and made the massacre possible.
At “gun-free” Northern Illinois University on Feb. 14, 2008, a former student killed five and wounded 21 before taking his own life.
What happened at Appalachian, Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois could happen at any Florida university, and did on Nov. 20, 2014, when a former FSU student wounded three on campus. A worse tragedy was prevented by the quick response of armed police who shot the shooter as he was trying to reload.
“Gun-free” campuses place the law-abiding at the mercy of any criminal who, knowing he will not face armed opposition, decides to gain notoriety by going on a killing spree. Madmen may be crazy, but they are not stupid. They do not go to a police station or to an NRA convention to begin a killing spree. They go where they know they will not encounter armed victims.
The best way to deter a potential killer is to let him know that his intended victims also may have guns. It just takes one person who is able to point and shoot a gun to stop a bad guy who is trying to shoot up a school.
The argument against repeal of Florida statute 790.06(12) is an emotional one that puts ideology ahead of logic and experience. It fails to recognize that criminals do not respect the “gun free” zones that have turned schools and other public places into abattoirs. It also fails to take into account that the only way to stop someone with a gun is with another gun, as occurred at Appalachian Law School and Florida State University.
Those who think the best way to keep our children safe is by denying teachers, staff and other adults the means to protect students, should ask themselves whether they would also disarm the Secret Service agents and police who protect the president, congressmen, governors, legislators and judges. For that matter, would the police themselves be safer if they were disarmed?
If we want to protect people and save lives, we must recognize the world we live in, not the world we wish we lived in.
We owe our students, staff and faculty more than asking them to hope that those who would do them harm honor a gun-free campus policy, a policy that has consistently failed to protect innocents whenever a killer has chosen to ignore it.
Randolph Braccialarghe is a law professor at the Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad College of Law in Fort Lauderdale.