Florida congressional Democrats are speaking out against proposed legislation to allow individuals with concealed carry permits to bring their firearms onto college campuses, adding fire to a bill which is already heating up before the 2016 legislative session has even begun.
The group of 10 congressional represenatives penned a letter to Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, pleading with the two top-tier legislators to put a stop to the proposed legislation.
“We agree that campus violence is a serious problem. Sadly, there have been at least 23 shootings on college campuses just in 2015,” the letter reads. “Increasing the number of guns on college campuses is simply not the answer.”
HB 4001/SB 68, sponsored by state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, and state Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, would allow concealed carry permit holders over the age of 21 to carry their weapons on public college and university campuses in Florida.
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, said state lawmakers needed to think about the effects the legislation would have on students and faculty members who might not be totally comfortable with having guns on campus.
“Florida’s colleges should be safe for our students, not remakes of the Wild West,” Frankel said. “The state Legislature should take seriously the concerns of university administrators, police, parents, and students and stop these reckless bills.”
Other members of the state congressional delegation joined Frankel in the letter, which was also signed by Florida Democrats U.S. Reps. Corinne Brown, Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Frederica Wilson, Patrick Murphy, Alan Grayson, and Gwen Graham.
The represenatives join a chorus of groups opposed to the legislation, including the State University System of Florida, university presidents, police chiefs, teachers and some students who say the bill is bad news for safety on campus.
“College students are already known to disproportionately engage in high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking and to struggle with mental health issues including thoughts of suicide,” the represenatives wrote. “Increasing students’ access to guns only increases the likelihood that volatile situations on campus will end in tragedy.”
Despite the Democratic congressional represenatives' opposition to the legislation, several groups have already pledged their fervent support of the proposal, which heads to the full legislature next month. The National Rifle Association, which boasts 5 million members, has made the legislation a top priority for the 2016 legislative session.
Former NRA President Marion Hammer said keeping guns off campus gives wrongdoers freedom to commit senseless crimes against innocent victims.
“The plain truth is, campuses are not safe,” Hammer wrote in an email Tuesday. “They are ‘Gun-Free-Zones’ where murderers, rapists, terrorists, and robbers may commit crimes without fear of being harmed by their victims.”
The legislation easily sailed through the necessary subcommittees recently, but a previous proposal to legalize the measure fell flat during last year’s legislative session.
Supporters of the legislation say it gives Second Amendment rights to concealed carry permit holders and would not result in further gun violence on college campuses, which are typically gun-free zones.
The full text of the letter is available here.