In the coming session, Florida’s Legislature will consider a bill aiming to eliminate “gun-free zones” on college campuses. For state lawmakers, the issue has come up before.
“This is a repeal bill, so it’s been filed a few times in the last few years in Florida,” said Republican State Representative Anthony Sabatini, talking about the bill he filed this week.
“The point of the bill is simply public safety. We just got done taking a good look at the nine-month Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, and its findings were that – essentially, my takeaway, is gun-free zones are not a good thing and that armed teachers increase public safety. And so this is really a similar issue, it’s a corollary issue in my opinion,” Sabatini said.
Sabatini uses the February high school shooting that claimed 17 lives to frame his argument against gun-free zones.
“As we saw with Parkland, and any mass shooting – gun-free zones are inherently dangerous because they’re purposely targeted by mass shooters,” Sabatini said. “They will always go to a place in which they essentially either can’t be stopped or it takes an extremely long period of time for law enforcement to respond.”
Similar measures have been filed before in recent years. Sabatini, a freshman state lawmaker from Lake County, says the argument for gun-free zones is misguided.
“Basically their argument is, if anyone has a gun anywhere, that place is somehow less safe. I think they have an irrational fear of guns. I’m a national Guardsman – been in the National Guard for 10 years, been a permit holder for a few years and carry my weapon quite a bit,” Sabatini said. “If anything, it makes me feel more safe. I just don’t see the point of removing guns simply because someone has an irrational fear of the concealed weapon permit holders.”
Andy Pelosi is director of the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus. He says opposition to measures like Sabatini’s are in the interest of fostering a safe environment.
“We strongly oppose allowing loaded concealed weapons or openly carrying weapons on college campuses,” Pelosi said. “We think that is only creates an unsafe environment and increased risk for everyone – students, faculty, staff and visitors.”
Pelosi is no stranger to the debate, which he says he has observed and participated in over the years.
“I think this is at least the fifth session in a row, it could be more than that, where guns on campus has come up in Florida,” Pelosi said. “I know that in 2011 it was also defeated, but there may have been a break in between But at any rate, we’ve seen this type of legislation introduced in both houses for several years now.”
And, Pelosi says, it wasn’t just Democrats who axed the bill in years past.
“It’s been defeated, and it’s interesting that in the Senate, it’s been defeated by Republicans in a bipartisan manner,” Pelosi said.
In Pelosi’s view, guns on campus is not something Florida’s colleges are actively seeking out.
“The Association of Florida Colleges, as well as President Thrasher at FSU and other College presidents around the state, are all opposed to allowing concealed weapons on campus — and for good reason. The crime rate on Florida colleges is very low compared to what’s happening off-campus. That’s documented, it’s something we’ve talked about for several years now,” Pelosi said. “On-campus law enforcement, it’s not something they support; faculty are strongly opposed to this also. It’s really something the schools are not asking for.”
And indeed, Florida State University President John Thrasher has been vocal against having guns on campus. Most recently, an off-campus shooting in October took multiple lives of people affiliated with the school. The tragedy prompted the former Republican state lawmaker to say this, at a vigil held for those who died:
“I have fought for four years, and the previous two years when I was in the Florida Legislature, to keep guns off this campus,” Thrasher said. “And I promise you, I promise you I will continue to fight that fight.”