1. Opinion

Ruth: Legislators ignore campus concerns about guns

Campus police department representatives opposed the gun bill, but their opinions didn’t matter.
Campus police department representatives opposed the gun bill, but their opinions didn’t matter.
Published Mar. 20, 2015

It's an image that pretty much sums up the way business is done in the Florida Legislature, where a picture is worth a thousand shrugs.

To no one's surprise, last week the Senate Higher Education Committee cavalierly approved a measure to permit the carrying of concealed weapons on the state's public university campuses. As back-room deals go, this fix was more preordained than the Black Sox scandal.

The effort to replace the freshman beanie with a Beretta is the handiwork of the National Rifle Association, which apparently won't be content until every Floridian is allowed to drive to the convenience store in a Toyota pickup truck fitted with a .50-caliber machine gun.

It is noteworthy — to everyone except the Florida Legislature — that the Take Your Gun to Introductory English Literature 101 law has been opposed by the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees higher education; the United Faculty of Florida; all 12 university administrations and all 12 campus police departments.

Indeed, during last week's Senate committee hearing, law enforcement officers representing the dozen state universities showed up to vociferously express their displeasure over the concealed carry campus bill. The police agencies fruitlessly tried to explain to the Florida Legislature that allowing anyone with a concealed carry permit to bring his little friend on campus threatens the public safety environment since only duly sworn and properly trained police officers have the expertise and skills to professionally deal with an active shooter situation.

Or put as simply as possible so even a state legislator might understand: When it comes to shooting bad guys, the police know what they are doing and untrained, unprepared, unskilled civilians do not.

That's pretty impeccable logic.

The optics of the moment were telling. As the uniformed officers from the 12 university campuses sat in the audience, the Senate Higher Education Committee went about the business of ignoring them. Their opinions didn't matter. Their service on behalf of the public, the state's students, faculty and administrators didn't matter. Nothing mattered.

Republicans on the committee, including Sen. John Legg, R-Feeling Lucky?, dredged up the specious argument they were merely honoring the Second Amendment. If the Founding Fathers were alive today they would respond, "Are you people crazy?"

The committee vote was much less about the Second Amendment than about Tallahassee money and power politics.

If Republican lawmakers truly cared about public safety, then the Take Your Smith & Wesson to Spanish Class bill would have been given the bum's rush out of the Higher Education Committee.

But if the committee vote is any indication, Legg and his colleagues are less concerned with protecting the state's universities than with satisfying the NRA. Get sideways with the gun lobby and before you can say "Charlton Heston" a legislator will find a can of whup-assault rifle opened up against them.

In the midst of the Take Your Gat to Geography Class debate, NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer attempted to gin up some hysteria by arguing that the state's university campuses were havens for all manner of brigands, including "terrorists," bent on wreaking havoc.

To be fair to Hammer, she didn't really need to engage in a paranoid "We're all doomed!" strategy to advance the NRA's interests. When your legislative Lhasa apsos are already paper trained, it doesn't take that much to get them to roll over for campaign contributions.

In short, all the naysaying cops, all the academics, all the administrators charged with managing Florida's universities — all the people who actually know what they are talking about —never stood a chance of getting a fair, intellectually honest hearing before a holster of politicians beholden to one of Tallahassee's most influential special interests groups.

This was a perverse thing of beauty, a master class in home cooking.


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