Florida Legislators Introduce Campus Carry Bills Despite Opposition

Feb 20, 2015

Landis Green from the steps of Strozier Library.
Credit NIck Evans

Despite broad opposition on Florida’s campuses, state lawmakers are moving forward with a plan to allow guns at universities.  Three months ago today, there was a shooting at Florida State University, and this week the controversial measure began its path through the Senate.

Last November, Florida State University students woke to find there had been a shooting at the school’s main library.  Three were injured, and one of them is now paralyzed from the waist down.  The shooter was killed by police.  In the morning, an impromptu gathering of students formed on Landis Green, the long quad stretching out in front of Strozier library.  Some groups huddled in circles to pray together.  At one point two girls led students in “The Hymn to the Garnet and the Gold.” 

But the prevailing atmosphere was shocked silence.  Bundled in a heavy black coat, student body president Stefano Cavallaro tried to make sense of what had just happened.

“I think everyone’s kind of hurt,” Cavallaro said.  “It’s scary stuff when things like this happen, you know it kind of shows our vulnerabilities.”

But even so, he was optimistic.

“You know, I think the student body’s definitely mourning right now and very conscious about such an egregious act of violence on our campus, but I think that we’ll come out stronger from this,” Cavallaro concluded.

Three months later, Strozier library’s broken glass has been replaced, and the chatter of students going about their day has returned.  But they haven’t forgotten the shooting.  And a plan in the Legislature to allow concealed weapons on campus leaves some students uneasy.

“Well for me personally, I would be more scrared” FSU student Michelle Morrison says.  “I wouldn’t feel comfortable.  There was a shooting here at this library, so I don’t know, somebody could get angry or upset and that could happen again.”

Another student, Reid Paul Johnson agrees.

“I would just feel a lot less safe walking around if I knew that people had guns on them honestly,” Johnson says.  “They may not use it, but I don’t know, just the potential that it could go off or something sort of scares me.”

But just as many students feel like Emily Pingleton.

“I support the bill,” Pingleton says.  “I believe students have the right to carry guns on campus if it means more protection for them.”

And so far, legislators are making progress.   

“I would say that there’s nine other states that allows for concealed carry on college campus, and I think we need to make Florida the tenth state,” Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker).

Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker)
Credit Nick Evans

Evers chairs the Senate criminal justice committee.  He’s a broad-shouldered, imposing man with a slow drawl.  He keeps a soft black leather-bound bible on his desk and there’s a sign from the National Rifle Association over his office door.  It reads: “An armed man is citizen.  An unarmed man is a subject.” 

Evers is shepherding the bill through the Senate and it came before his committee Monday.  Shortly before the meeting began, the sergeant at arms had to start turning people away.  Attendees stood lined against the back wall for most of the two hour hearing.  So many of them wanted to speak, in fact, Evers ended up cutting public comment short.

Brandon Johnson, a senator at the FAMU SGA and vice-president for the youth in college division of the NAACP was one of the students in attendance that didn’t get a chance to speak.

“I have to live with this for three years now,” Johnson says.  “So now me being a college student, I’m frightened that my roommate next year—who very well could be 21 or 22, who takes the course, who has a concealed license permit—could be having a gun next door.  Or if I’m in a double, could be right across the way from me.”  

Speaking in front of Strozier library, Jade Reindl, an FSU student associated with Generation Progress’s gun violence prevention team explains that while the proposal is simple, that also means its effects are very far reaching.

“While it does require a concealed carry permit, there are no regulations for the university so the university wouldn’t know—there’s no registration system, so the university wouldn’t know X-Y-Z, this number of people in these dorms may have guns,” Reindl says.

Currently public universities are on a list of places where concealed weapons are prohibited.  The measure Evers is sponsoring in the Senate removes that language.  Many other states that allow concealed weapons on campuses also let the school set aside limited areas like classes or dorms where guns aren’t allowed.  But Evers doesn’t think Florida should have those restrictions.

“At this point I wouldn’t be supportive of anything other than what we have right now,” Evers says.

In Utah, for instance, students living in dorms can request to be paired with roommates who don’t have a concealed weapons permit.  Evers says he wouldn’t oppose something similar in Florida, under one condition.

“If it was voluntary—yes.  But to inquire about a person having a concealed carry, that’s a privacy issue, and I say no,” Evers says.

Evers moved the measure through his committee, but on a party-line vote.  With both chambers under Republican control, that might not sink the proposal.  But as the bill moves forward, the critics will likely grow louder, and it’s not clear if a majority of state lawmakers—much less an embattled Governor—want to put their name to such a controversial move.