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Campus Carry Measure Advances In House

A proposal that would allow concealed-weapon permit holders to bring handguns onto college and university campuses continued moving forward Wednesday in the state House, despite opposition from academic leaders.

The Higher Education & Workforce Subcommittee voted 10-3, with Tallahassee Democrat Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda joining nine Republicans, to advance the bill (HB 4001), which would allow the state's 1.45 million concealed-weapon permit holders to carry guns while on state campuses.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda, a co-sponsor of the bill, said people already have guns illegally on campus, and "our campuses are open and not as safe and idyllic as we'd like to believe."

Still, the fate of the bill spearheaded by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, likely remains with the Senate, where an identical measure (SB 68) must get through its next scheduled stop at the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bills are filed for the 2016 legislative session, which starts in January. Committees are taking up bills in advance of the session.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said Tuesday no decision has been made about whether to bring up the campus-carry bill, adding the measure won't be on the agenda for the committee's next meeting.

A similar measure died during the 2015 session after not getting through the Judiciary Committee. In the spring, Diaz de la Portilla said he decided to scuttle the measure after polling members of the Senate and finding a lack of support for the bill backed by gun-rights groups.

The measure is one of a number of legislative proposals that would expand the rights of people who have concealed-weapons licenses. Leaders of the state university system have opposed the campus-carry proposal.

Rep. Ed Narain, a Tampa Democrat who is chairman of the Legislature's black caucus, told the Higher Education & Workforce Subcommittee on Wednesday the 26 members of his caucus oppose any proposal that "will increase the number of guns on campus."

Steube said permit holders who must be at least 21 years old and demonstrate competency with firearms should "be able to carry anywhere."

Eric Friday, general counsel of the gun-rights group Florida Carry Inc., questioned an estimate by the 28 schools in the Florida College System that they would have to spend $74 million to upgrade security, training and equipment because of the campus-carry proposal.

"If we allow law-abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms on our campuses, suddenly we're going to need armed security and police that we don't have now, where there is nothing keeping criminals off of our campuses with guns," said. "If you believe criminals don't have guns on campus now, you're naive."

Opponents of the bill said a better solution to increasing safety on campuses would be to boost funding for law enforcement.

"This is not a bill that addresses rape on campus," said subcommittee member Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek. "This is a bill that allows certain people to carry guns and others not to. If we really want to address the issue of rape on campus, then what we need to ensure is that we have a greater number of officers on campus that can continue to protect women in that environment."

Florida State University senior Daniela Fernandez told the panel that the bill could impact learning on the state's campuses.

"The intellectual integrity of our institutions are at risk here," Fernandez, who is from Miami, said. "Education is a debate process. Students and faculty will be less inclined to debate, to learn if guns are allowed on campus."

Wednesday's vote came less than a week after the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected arguments by Florida Carry Inc. in a lawsuit seeking to overturn a University of Florida ban on firearms in residence halls and other university housing.

The News Service of Florida is a wire service to which WUFT News subscribes.