Fla. legislator says gun-free zones are the problem, wants guns on college campuses

Florida State University students in November 2014 prepare a banner for a vigil after a campus shooting that injured three people. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

State Rep. Anthony Sabatini says one way to protect Floridians from mass shootings would be to eliminate gun-free zones.

In the aftermath of the tragedies in Texas and Ohio, the Lake County Republican has refiled legislation that would let students, faculty and others carry concealed weapons on state university and college campuses.

Sabatini, an officer in the Florida National Guard and a lawyer, says his bill (HB 6001) “eradicates the gun-free zones of college campuses in Florida by allowing concealed-weapon permit holders to carry on campus.”

Sabatini

“How many mass shootings must we witness before we allow law-abiding citizens to defend themselves? Why do we strip Florida citizens of their rights without a shred of evidence that doing so makes us safer?” Sabatini said in a Facebook posting. “The Second Amendment makes us safer — ‘gun control’ and gun-free zones are a dangerous sham based on a cheap emotional appeal.”

But Sabatini’s bill is expected to face strong opposition in the generally gun-friendly Florida Legislature. Last year, Sabatini filed similar legislation that never advanced and there was no Senate companion bill.

‘Dangerous policy’

Gun-control advocates say Sabatini’s proposal would put more Floridians at risk on university and college campuses.

“Once again, Florida lawmakers are pushing a dangerous policy that flies in the face of public safety and is opposed by Florida’s college presidents, students and university police chiefs — the very people who know best how to protect our campuses,” said Gay Valimont, a volunteer leader with the Florida chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

“In the wake of the devastating shootings in Texas and Ohio (on the Aug. 3-4) weekend, and amid a gun violence crisis that takes 100 American lives every day, lawmakers should be focused on how to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them, instead of tone-deaf policies that put students, teachers and university staff even further at risk,” Valimont said in a written statement.

As of July 31, more than 2 million Floridians have a concealed-weapons permit, according to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Permit holders must be at least 21 years old.

Sabatini’s bill would remove university and college campuses from the list of locations where concealed weapons are banned. The other gun-free zones include courthouses, polling places, government meetings (including the Legislature), sports stadiums, K-12 schools, bars and airports. Sabatini’s bill does not address the other gun-free zones currently in law.

“The arbitrary restriction against concealed weapon permit holders carrying on college campuses is likely the most irrational law in the Florida statutes. I challenge anyone to find a specific and valid factual argument to support it — none exists,” Sabatini said. “Although all efforts toward ‘gun control’ are bad policy, the creation of gun-free zones are among the most senseless and dangerous.”

Faculty union opposes

Marshall Ogletree, executive director of United Faculty of Florida, the union that represents professors and others at Florida’s 12 state universities and 14 of the 28 state colleges, says his organization will again strongly oppose Sabatini’s bill.

“The idea of introducing this right after El Paso and Dayton, just shows the, I guess, disdain that the representative and other people and the NRA have about what people really, truly believe in Florida and around the nation,” Ogletree said. “More realistic laws need to be passed than allowing people on an individual basis to carry guns on campuses. We strongly oppose that from a moral point of view, from a philosophical point of view.”

Ogletree noted a key opponent of the bill is Florida State University President John Thrasher, a former Republican speaker of the Florida House and a former member of the state Senate. Thrasher played a large role in killing a similar bill in the 2011 Legislature when he was still in the Senate. Since becoming the FSU president in 2014, Thrasher has remained an outspoken critic of the legislation.

Florida State University President John Thrasher has opposed efforts to allow people to carry concealed weapons on campus. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/ Getty Images)

Ogletree also disputes Sabatini’s argument that reducing gun-free zones in Florida will improve safety, pointing to the example of Texas, a state that has more lenient gun laws, including the right to “open carry” firearms.

“The whole concept of ‘gun-free zones makes an easy target,’ that’s nonsense,” Ogletree said. “El Paso proves that because that’s probably the state that allows guns more than any other state. And that guy had no fear at all, doing what he did.”

Sabatini’s bill will be considered in the 2020 Florida Legislature, which begins its annual 60-day session in January.

And although his bill will again face significant opposition, Sabatini says he remains committed to the proposal.

“I filed this bill last year and I will file it EVERY year I am a member of the Florida Legislature until it passes,” he wrote on Facebook.

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