An appeals court ruled Friday that state universities are allowed to ban students from having guns in their dorm rooms.
The ruling comes at a critical time: The Republican-controlled Legislature is already considering bills that would allow concealed permit owners to bring their guns onto campus.
In a lengthy ruling, The 1st District Court of Appeal upheld an earlier trial court ruling siding with the University of Florida against a gun rights group. Florida Carry first sued the Gainesville-based university over the ban in 2014.
The lawsuit was filed after UF got rid of a ban on guns in cars in response to a separate court ruling, but left intact a strict prohibition on guns elsewhere on campus. Florida Carry argued that dormitories act as a home for students and UF had no legal right to ban guns there.
But 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Joseph Lewis stated in the ruling that if the Legislature wanted guns in campus housing it would have made that it clear in state law. He said that to reach the result sought by Florida Carry "requires a strained interpretation of the statutes involved.''
Janine Sikes, a spokeswoman for UF, said the university was pleased with ruling. She noted that the university has "consistently opposed bills in the Legislature that would change existing state law and will continue to do so.''
Sean Caranna, executive director of Florida Carry, said in an email that the appeals court "failed to consider important parts of the case.'' He added that the court should have considered whether the constitutional rights of students were "infringed upon.'' He said that the group will likely ask the court to reconsider its decision.
The legal challenge comes while the Legislature is in the middle of a contentious debate over whether guns should be allowed on college campuses. A bill that would allow concealed weapon holders to bring their guns onto college and university campuses has already made it through two state Senate committees this fall. An identical bill is scheduled to be heard in a House committee next week.
Florida law requires that a person must be at least 21 years old in order to obtain a concealed weapons permit.
Currently at UF, campus residents can store their guns, unloaded, at the university's police station with permission. Anyone bringing a gun to the station is required to follow a specific street route to get there.