Friday, May 25, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Guns on campus? What could go wrong? (w/video)

You don't need to be Matlock to realize that in this potential courtroom drama St. Petersburg College is probably going to lose.

After all, the college would be arguing for campus safety, common sense and the need to preserve a modicum of academic freedom free of yahoo-esque intimidation.

But this is Florida, the Gunshine State, which has adopted a Deadwood-like mind-set that one must be fully armed 24 hours a day in case some brigand with evil intent sits in front of you in a movie theater, or the Agenda 21 crowd descends from the black helicopters.

That is how St. Petersburg College finds itself sideways with Florida Carry Inc., one of about 27,867 frothing gun rights groups across the state that won't be satisfied until all newborns from Panama City to Key West are issued a TEC-9 in their bassinet.

SPC has a perfectly sensible policy that prohibits anyone from possessing a firearm on its property, including in cars. College campuses are, as they should be, wide-open environments encouraging interactions among students, faculty and staff. So it only makes sense that an institution of higher learning such as SPC would also want to exercise its in loco parentis due diligence in making sure everyone on its campuses feels safe.

Florida Carry sees things differently and would rather have an environment in place at colleges and universities across the state where anyone could pack heat in their vehicles.

Depending on how you interpret these things, the University of Florida can trace its beginnings as far back as 1853, although Rollins College in Winter Park often claims it is the state's oldest recognized college with its roots established in 1885. No matter which date you accept, one thing is clear: Until very recently, Florida has for roughly 150 years educated legions of students without turning its campuses into the fighting body bags of Cross Hair U.

That wasn't good enough for Florida Carry, which prevailed late last year in challenging the University of North Florida's campus weapons ban. It cited state law that prohibits public and private employers from denying customers, employees or invitees on the property from possessing a legally owned firearm in their vehicles.

Tallahassee has a hypocritical love affair with weapons. It desires to make it easier to: a) get a concealed carry permit and/or b) shoot people just for the heck of it. But try getting into the Florida Legislature with a loaded gun, and you will discover our elected officials aren't so crazy about the Second Amendment when it involves their workplace.

Since the court fights, other public institutions such as the University of Florida and the University of South Florida have eased their prior bans on guns in cars. Now it is SPC's turn.

In the end, sadly, the college likely will be forced to follow Florida's loopy laws and allow people driving onto campus to bring along their guns. Pity.

Still, it would be nice if SPC president Bill Law, who is a very smart guy, would take one more shot (sorry, bad word choice) at trying to convince a court that college campuses should be exempt from laws allowing weapons to be brought onto their property.

After all, a vast majority of law enforcement professionals, including most campus police departments, have argued that guns and college students are a dicey public safety mix.

SPC also could revisit the viable argument that universities should be legally regarded as local school districts, which can and do restrict the possession of firearms anywhere on their campuses. The 1st District Court of Appeal rejected that reasoning in the UNF case, but it has yet to be taken up by the Florida Supreme Court.

This is hardly a keen legal theory, but couldn't one simply ask that while the Second Amendment is all very nice, do we need to be surrounded by gun-toting poltroons in nearly every nook and cranny of our society — the hallowed chambers of the well-protected Florida Legislature excepted?

Of course, all of this could be easily corrected if Tallahassee would merely pass a law banning weapons on college campuses. Alas, that may be a statute too far for an institution best known for firing intellectual blanks.

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