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Guns on campus bill wins first committee shootout

A campus carry proposal cleared the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Monday on a partisan vote with supporters arguing it was an reasonable extension of a limited right to self-defense.

Sen. Greg Evers, the Republican chair of the committee is sponsoring SB 176which would allow concealed weapons permit holders to possess guns on college and university campuses. One point three million Floridians have the permit and Rep. Greg Steube testifying in support of the bill said it makes little sense to disarm them in an unsecured area.

Evers chimed in that there are more than 130 sex offenders living in the neighborhoods surrounding Florida State University, where earlier this year a gunman opened fire on students at a library.

“I don’t think us as Americans or us as Floridians should have to sit and wait, wait for law enforcement to get there because we happen to be on a college campus,” said Rep. Steube speaking of a hypothetical situation where a law abiding gun owner witnessesing a murder or sexual assault in a gun-free zone.

Opponents cited studies questioning Steube’s and Evers’ assumptions and the public opposition of student organizations, faculty, presidents and police chiefs at the 12 state universities along with vote to oppose the measure by the state Board of Governors.

“Now maybe these people know something. Maybe there is a better way to provide security then simply introducing more and more firearms into the mix,” said Matthew Lata, a Florida State University music professor who told lawmakers the issue is personal because it’s about his work place.

More than 100 people crowded into the committee room and another 30 listened in from an overflow room. Most appeared opposed to the bill but a majority of the panel, led by chair Evers who said if he had an 18-year old daughter he would want her armed, supported the bill.

Noting time running out on the meeting, the Republican chair recognized NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer.

“The plain truth is that campuses are not safe; they are gun free zones where murderers, rapists, terrorists and crazies may commit crimes without fear of being armed by their victims,” said Hammer. “People should not have their constitutional rights violated simply because they step on some ground classified as campus.”

The outgunned Democrats on the panel fired away at the proposal saying it was not appropriate to allow students and visitors to carry fire arms on campus.

“I don’t think we need mini militias on our university campuses,” said Democratic Sen.  Audrey Gibson. “(Let us) recognize there is no analysis anywhere that points to the fact that any student or parent feel that they’re loved ones or they themselves are unsafe on campus.”

Sen. Jeff Clemens came to the debate armed with seven studies, including those by the Harvard School of Public Health, the University of Michigan and the Centers for Disease Control to attack what he called the myth that guns make places safer.

“The evidence in study, after study, shows that you are much more likely to injure someone else than you are to defend yourself,”said Clemens.

Eight states allow guns on their college and university campuses and Sen. Evers said he intends to have Florida join them as the ninth. The committee approved the measure on a 3–2 vote.

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