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Campus Gun Bill, Mental Health And Gun Safety Among Discussed Local Forum Topics

A bill allowing people to carry guns on college campuses, gun safety, and mental illness are just some of the topics that sparked heated discussion during a Tallahassee forum.

The League of Women Voters of Tallahassee hosted a panel discussion Wednesday called “Mental Health, Guns, and the Law.” Dan Hendrickson, a retired assistant public defender that specialized in clients with mental health issues, was among the panelists. He’s working to destigmatize the issue surrounding people with mental health problems and mass shootings.

“To me, the number of people because they’re involved in gun violence and have a mental illness are a small percentage of the events and that common sense tells us that people who are drunk and in bar fights, those by far outnumber those people who are decompensated off their medicines,” said Hendrickson.

Tallahassee Police Deputy Chief Darrell Furuseth also attended. He touched on how much training is required by his police department to make sure officers know how to deal with people with mental health issues. The discussion also turned to gun violence, which Furuseth admitted is a problem in Tallahassee.

“Tallahassee has a serious gun violence problem,”said Furuseth. “I think we’re all aware of that. We’ve probably been in the top five for the last six years per capita. And, when you’re competing with Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa, we have an issue. The Chief [Mike DeLeo] is working on the leadership gun council with community members. But, it’s not just a police issue, there’s resources out there, and everybody’s got a stake at this.”

Controversial legislation allowing people with conceal carry permits who are at least 21 years of age to carry guns on campus later became a topic of discussion. It’s a bill that failed to pass the Legislature in 2011, when then Sen. John Thrasher helped defeat the measure. Thrasher was convinced by a family friend who had lost his daughter, a Florida State University student, when her boyfriend accidentally shot her at a frat house.

Still, Florida Carry lobbyist and panel member, Eric Friday, says the revived bill deserves to become law.

“There’s a not in-substantial number of police officers that have negligent or accidental discharges where other police officers are sometimes shot or they’re shot themselves,” said Friday. “So, we don’t suggest from that we take guns from all police officers. We had one, I believe, just the other day where one deputy shot himself in the hand or something in an elevator. So, we don’t suggest that we don’t take guns from all police officers because a police officer had an accident. Why do we suggest all gun owners give up their guns because a college student did something he wasn’t supposed to do?”

But, Roy Blondeau, a retired assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, wasn’t too happy about that prospect.

“Well, there’s too many guns in my opinion,” Blondeau stated to applause. “It some national illness that we have.”

The local forum comes on the heels of the League of Women Voters of Florida coming out against the campus gun bill, in the wake of Monday’s shooting at a Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.