A House committee approved a bill Tuesday that would allow guns on state university campuses just two months after a shooter wounded three people at a Florida State University library.
Rep. Greg Steube argued his bill (HB 4005) would make campuses safer because a shooter could be stopped by a gun owner before police respond to a shooting scene. He said gun-free zones don't prevent people from going on shooting sprees.
"It didn't stop the shooter at Florida State University's library, it didn't stop the shooter at Virginia Tech," said Steube, R-Sarasota.
Steube said he began preparing the bill before the Florida State shooting in November, when a former student Myron May wounded two students and a library employee before police fatally shot him. He noted that you have to be 21 to obtain a concealed weapon permit in Florida, so very few students would qualify.
The 8-4 vote was split along party lines, with Republicans supporting the measure and Democrats opposed. The bill has two more committee stops in the House. An identical Senate bill has yet to be heard.
Two of the 'no' votes came from former police officers: Reps. Dave Kerner of Palm Springs and Clovis Watson of Gainesville. Kerner said that police officers are trained to respond to active shooters and gun-carrying students are more likely to make bad decisions in a very tense situation.
"To suggest that they would be the proper entity to confront an active shooter is very, very misguided," said Kerner.
Several students and professors from around the state urged the committee to reject the bill, saying universities are a place where there is a lot of drinking and it can be a stressful environment.
"The consequences far outweigh the positives. By allowing college students to be able to carry on campus, incidents of violence are more likely to occur," said Florida State student Jacob Elpern. "Universities are a place where students go to expand their knowledge, and they should not be under constant fear."
Marjorie Sanfilippo, a psychology professor at Eckerd College, said university students have a higher suicide rate and often don't use healthy ways to cope with stress. "Is it really a good idea to give them a handgun to help them along the way?" she said.
But bill supporters said students should have the right to protect themselves. Rep. Dennis Baxley said universities could be liable if a student is raped because she didn't have a gun to protect herself.
"If you empower people to stop an act of violence, they can, they will and they have been doing it," said Baxley, R-Ocala. "I heard about expanded drug and alcohol abuse on campuses and out-of-control parties. Folks, if you're living in that kind of environment, you better carry a firearm because you could get raped, beaten or worse."
Baxley was the sponsor of the 2005 bill that became known as the "stand your ground" law, which allows deadly force to be used if necessary to prevent death or serious injury.