Florida lawmakers are gearing up for a showdown over allowing concealed weapons on campus -- and supporters of the legislation are honing in on what they say is a “lack of evidence” proving concealed carry permit holders would engage in violence if the legislation was passed in the Sunshine State.
The legislation, which was filed in the House and Senate by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, and Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, would allow concealed weapons permit holders aged 21 and older to carry their firearms on public colleges and universities.
Since the legislation’s proposal, it’s gathered wide criticism from students, police chiefs and university staff, many of whom say they’re worried bringing guns into an already stressful environment would create a dangerous -- and potentially lethal -- environment for college students.
"The idea of having someone armed in that kind of environment ... is not something that leads to likely good outcomes,” said Tallahassee Community College President Jim Murdaugh.
In order to get a concealed weapons permit in Florida, permit holders must go through a background check and complete a training course to make sure they are competent with a firearm. Under the proposed legislation, they would be the only ones legally allowed to carry guns on campus, meaning not all students would be armed.
Supporters of the bill say there’s no evidence concealed carry permit holders are more likely to engage in gun violence than anyone else, a point which seems to have become the center of supporters’ retorts against opponents of the bill.
Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, questioned Jim Murdaugh’s evidence during a Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing last week. When Bradley asked Murdaugh if he had any evidence concealed carry permit holders engage in gun violence in Florida, Murdaugh came up dry.
"I have no evidence to that effect, sir,” he told the committee.
The National Rifle Association was quick to pounce on the apparent weak chain of the opponents’ lack of evidence. In an email sent Monday, NRA past president Marion Hammer slammed state employees who lobbied against campus carry (specifically TCC’s Murdaugh), saying those who testified against the legislation had nothing upon which to base their “political diatribe.”
“State employees have been and continue to lobby against the constitutional rights of the citizens they were hired to serve and who pay their salaries,” she wrote, calling the lobbying an “egregious misuse of public funds.”
“Claims of collective opposition from state colleges and universities doesn't make them right, it merely reveals their willingness to march in collective unison to advance their own personal brand of anti-gun politics – while denying reality,” Hammer continued.
Gun issues are already becoming a hot button for state lawmakers despite the 2016 regular session being nearly three months away. Other bills are already being proposed to change gun laws in Florida, including a bill to allow open carry for any concealed weapons permit holders in Florida. That bill has yet to appear in any committees.
The 2016 regular legislative session begins in January.
Reach Allison Nielsen at firstname.lastname@example.org.