Campus-carry legislation hindered again

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Washington, DC, January 26, 2016 | comments

FIU STUDENT MEDIA

Campus-carry legislation hindered again

By Erica Santiago

The effort to permit concealed guns on the campuses of Florida’s 40 public colleges and universities has once again been stalled.

According to the Miami Herald, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla confirmed Thursday that he won’t schedule a hearing on the controversial legislation (SB 68), which he also wouldn’t take up last session.

Without being vetted in Diaz de la Portilla’s committee, the bill goes no further in the Florida Senate, even as an identical measure is moving swiftly through the Florida House.

The bills, sponsored by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, are a priority for the National Rifle Association, Florida Carry and student groups that support allowing the more than 1.4 million people with concealed weapons permits in Florida to carry their weapons on public university and college campuses.

But Diaz de la Portilla said, “I don’t think this is a Second Amendment issue,” according to the Herald.

“I think what we’re talking about here is campus safety, and the best way to address that issue, and whether the proposed cure is worse than the disease,” he said.

Alexander Casas, FIU’s chief police, addressed the possibility of allowing concealed guns on campus this past Sept. 2015.

In an interview with FIUSM, Casas said, “I would rather that statute didn’t pass.”

Casas expressed concern that more guns would only make dangerous situations even more risky by causing more difficulties for first responders.

“In a fraction of a second, they have to make a decision. That’s a big ask.”

Casas added that he would be more comfortable with the bill if there were a requirement that someone with a concealed weapons permit had to have a certain level of training or demonstrate a certain level of proficiency with a firearm.

“You don’t even have to shoot a round,” Casas said of how easy it is to receive a concealed weapons permit. “Go to a gun show, take a class and you can walk out with a gun.”

Greg Evers, the Senate sponsor, told reporters Diaz de la Portilla didn’t talk to him about his decision, although the two had previously discussed the proposal.

“It would make a statement to the residents of Florida to bring it up and actually have a vote on it,” Evers said.

Greg Steube, who’s shepherding the House companion, HB 4001, which is ready for a floor vote, suggested lawmakers could use some procedural maneuvering to keep the proposal moving, albeit in a different form.

“One person basically deciding what the public policy of the state is going to be isn’t really how this process should work,” Steube said, suggesting the campus-carry plan could be added as an amendment to other gun or education-related proposals under consideration.

Though that seems within the realm of possibility, there is still a high likelihood of retaliation by Senate leadership.

“Anything’s possible … but the chairman [Diaz de la Portilla] would probably not take too kindly to that,” Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said. “We were hearing from members on all sides that there was a little discomfort with [campus carry].”

In a coincidence of timing — and before Diaz de la Portilla’s decision was widely known — U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, appeared at a Capitol news conference to add her voice to the Democrats’ opposition to pro-gun bills moving through the Florida Legislature.

“I’m here to sound the alarm to make sure that they wake up and understand that they should be listening to people,” she said. As a mother of twins who are juniors in high school, she said, “it’s really troubling and disturbing to me to think they could be on a college campus where another student may decide to solve a problem with a gun.”

Allowing concealed weapons on campuses has widespread opposition from college and university presidents, campus police chiefs, the League of Women Voters and most Democrats, as well as several student and faculty organizations. College and university administrators estimated they’d have to spend millions on increased security measures and police training, if it ever became law.

Patti Brigham, chairwoman of the League’s gun safety committee, praised Diaz de la Portilla’s decision as “bold.”

“I think he’s seeing all the stakeholders who really have been so strongly opposed to campus carry and he’s listened, and we’re appreciative of that,” Brigham said, saying the group is “cautiously optimistic” the legislation is dead for the 2016 session.

In a previous statement made in September, Brigham said, “Campus carry bills are very concerning because they really have nothing to do with the Second Amendment,” said Patti Brigham, chairwoman of the League of Women Voters of Florida’s Gun Safety Committee that was launched last year. “This is a public safety issue.”

Supporters of the bill expressed frustration and disappointment but said they’ll keep fighting. They argued, like Evers, that Diaz de la Portilla should have given the proposal a fair hearing, even if it failed.

“[He] should vote ‘no’ to the bill if he truly does not support it, but his job is to put bills on the agenda that have high public interest, which campus carry does have,” said Rebekah Hargrove, a Florida State University graduate student and director of Florida Students for Concealed Carry Inc.

Meanwhile, a related proposal that is also backed by gun-rights advocates will continue to move forward. Diaz de la Portilla said he does plan to hold a hearing on legislation to give concealed-weapons permit-holders the ability to openly carry their weapons.

“To me, the debate is better about open carry because you still keep all the exemptions in place,”

Gardiner said. “I don’t think there was ever consensus on how you get campus carry done.”

Amendments to the open-carry legislation (SB 300 / HB 163) have been suggested by both Florida sheriffs and police chiefs, and it’s likely some of those could be folded in to make the plan more palatable to critics. The father-son duo of Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, is sponsoring those bills.

Evers, although disappointed about his own bill, said the open-carry proposal is “even more important to me than campus carry.”

“Standing up for the Second Amendment and supporting the Second Amendment is never a bad thing,” he said.

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