Local News

Guns at college

AVON PARK - Students can't openly carry guns on South Florida State College's campus.

However, said Keith Loweke, director of safety and security, the college does not prohibit keeping a firearm in a car.

The University of North Florida was sued in November 2011 by Florida Carry, a gun rights group. A circuit court ruled for UNF.

However, in December, the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled 12-3 against the lower court. Justice L. Clayton Roberts sided with Florida Carry's contention that only the Legislature - not a university of a city - can regulate firearms.

In January, the same group filed a lawsuit against the University of Florida, which prohibits guns anywhere on its campus.

"We do not have a specific policy, because we follow the Florida Statute, which is the law. You can carry a weapon onto campus, as long as the weapon is in a vehicle that is locked." But Loweke added, "The law does not allow you to carry it outside."

There are exceptions, like police officers. Security guards can't be armed unless specifically authorized by the college. SFSC has a law enforcement academy, so students can carry their weapons to class. And students can carry weapons to a gun safety class.

Students can't keep a gun in their Jacaranda Hotel dorm rooms, Loweke said. There have been no gun incidents on campus during the past year.

Florida State University Police Chief David Perry said although his officers will comply with the law, it's not a good idea.

"It's just not the right environment for those items," said Perry, president-elect of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators to the Orlando Sentinel. "It presents an opportunity for those weapons to be used - and also stolen."

UNF had banned the storage of any "weapon or destructive device" on college grounds, and said any student who violated the rule could face discipline up to suspension or expulsion.

Florida Carry Inc. and UNF student Alexandria Lainez sued, arguing the university couldn't ban firearms because the state Constitution gives that power to the state Legislature, which allows securely encased guns to be kept in motor vehicles.

The university disagreed, saying Florida law did allow schools to ban guns on school property. But lawyers for Lainez said that law only applied to school districts, not universities.

The law grants school districts, not colleges or universities, the right to prohibit firearms, Roberts said. The ruling would be different if the issue involved the right of a student to carry a gun into a class or sporting event.

"There are certain places where firearms can be legally prohibited," The Florida Times-Union reported. "But the Legislature has recognized that a citizen who is going to be in one of these places should be able to keep a firearm securely encased within his or her vehicle.

Justice Phillip Padovano dissented: "State universities have independent constitutional authority to adopt rules and regulations governing the conduct of their students," Padovano said. "Because the regulation at issue in this case falls directly within the scope of that authority, it is not subject to legislative preemption."

Sean Caranna, executive director for Florida Carry, said the case was an important defense of gun rights for the state. "People in Florida have a right to bear arms. That right goes beyond their homes."

Even a concealed weapons permit doesn't give students or the public the right to carry guns into campus buildings, Loweke said.