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University Police Chiefs Violated Law Testifying Against Campus Carry, Says Ethics Complaint

April 5, 2015 - 6:00pm

Ten university police chiefs who headed to the state Capitol to speak out against legislation to allow guns on college campuses are now the subject of an ethics complaint filed by a Florida-based gun rights group.

The complaint, filed by an attorney representing Florida Carry, alleges that 10 university police officers violated Florida law for lobbying against SB 176 and its companion bill, HB 4005 -- two bills which would allow concealed carry permit holders to have their weapons at public universities and college campuses.

Florida statute says any person employed by the state community college or university seeking to encourage the passage, defeat or modification of proposed legislation must register in the same manner as a lobbyist. But according to the complaint, the police chiefs said they were not registered to lobby although they clearly marked their cards that they were lobbying against SB 176.

The complaint also says the police officers made their trips to the Capitol while on duty, using state funds for trips to testify against the campus carry bills.

Florida Carry Executive Director Sean Caranna told Sunshine State News one of the organizations members had suspicions that the police chiefs were violating state law, so he submitted public records requests for expense reports and communications surrounding the police chiefs trips to the Capitol. Afterward, the group decided to file an official complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Officers came from several state universities: University of Florida, Florida State University, Florida A&M University, Florida Polytechnic University, Florida Atlantic University and the University of South Florida.

SSN attempted to contact the Florida State University Police Department, but the department declined to comment. The University of Florida Police Department had not returned SSNs phone calls as of this storys release.

For or against, if youre a state employee ... and you want to go in and [give] your personal views to the Legislature, you can absolutely do that, but you cant do it with the state footing the bill, said Caranna.

Gun rights groups said they didnt mind differing opinions on the legislation, but said it was important for law enforcement officers to play by the rules.

My concern was the use of tax dollars to come and lobby against restoring Second Amendment rights of law-abiding license holders, said former National Rifle Association President and lobbyist Marion Hammer. If they wanted to come on their own time in civilian clothes they have every right to do that, but when they come [to the Capitol] when they're supposed to be on duty, they've got no business lobbying against constitutional issues.

The Senate version of the legislation is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House version of the bill is set to be heard on the House floor in the coming weeks.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email at allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen

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