TALLAHASSEE — A state appeals court Friday rejected arguments by a gun-rights group that sought to overturn a University of Florida ban on firearms in residence halls and other university housing.
The group Florida Carry Inc. argued that people have a right to possess guns in their homes, including in university housing. But a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld an Alachua County circuit judge’s ruling last year that sided with the Gainesville university.
In part, the appeals court pointed to a state law that bars possession of guns on school property, including college and university campuses. It weighed that against another law that says people have a right to possess guns in their homes.
“Under appellant’s (Florida Carry’s) interpretation, the Legislature intended, without specifically stating so, to prohibit firearms on school property except for any place that might be considered a student’s home while on school property,” said the ruling, written by Judge Joseph Lewis. “Reaching that result, however, requires a strained interpretation of the statutes involved.”
The ruling by a three-judge panel came amid a high-profile legislative debate about whether people with concealed-weapons licenses should be able to carry guns on college and university campuses. Gun-rights supporters are lobbying for that change, while many university-system officials have opposed it.
Florida Carry filed the lawsuit against the University of Florida and former university President Bernie Machen in January 2014, shortly after winning another gun-rights case involving the University of North Florida. In that case, the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled that universities cannot bar students from storing guns in their cars while on campus.
In court briefs, Florida Carry argued that the law about possessing guns in homes superseded the law about guns on school property. It also pointed to the U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has been more than clear that laws which prohibit the best means to exercise the right of self-defense in the home, are prohibited under the Constitution of the United States,” Florid Carry attorneys Eric Friday and Lesley McKinney wrote in a brief filed in January. “Florida’s Constitution cannot be interpreted to mean any less.”
But the University of Florida disputed that the federal or state constitutions guarantee the right to have firearms in university housing.
“The Florida Legislature has struck a balance between preserving the right to bear arms for self-defense and protecting the safety and peace of mind of Florida citizens,” the university’s attorney, Barry Richard, wrote in a March brief. “In service of the latter interest, Florida law has long designated certain sensitive areas, including school and university campuses, as largely gun-free zones.”
Friday’s ruling suggested that lawmakers would have to take action if they want guns to be allowed in university housing.
“While the Legislature may choose to one day amend the current law to permit firearms in university housing, our interpretation of the pertinent statutes leads us to the conclusion that it has not yet done so,” Lewis wrote in a 28-page decision.
Judges Scott Makar and Timothy Osterhaus agreed with the outcome of Lewis’ ruling and wrote opinions that concurred in part with the reasoning.