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Florida Ruling Upholds Gun Rights on College Campuses, Could Have National Impact

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December 16, 2013
Florida Ruling Upholds Gun Rights on College Campuses, Could Have National Impact - 0

Florida's 1st District Court of Appeal sided with a 24-year-old college student and Florida Carry Inc. in a Dec. 10 decision that blocks state universities from regulating guns on campus.

In a rare ruling issued by the entire appeals court, justices determined that the University of North Florida violated state law when it prohibited Alexandria Lainez from storing a gun in her vehicle while she attended class.

The decision could be a significant precedent in Florida and nationwide, according to Lainez's attorneys. “This is a growing movement in a number of cases,” Jacksonville attorney Eric Friday told the Associated Press. "It’s one of many nationwide where anti-gun activists are trying to do at the local level what they can’t do in the statehouse -- restrict Second Amendment rights."

In a lengthy decision that included one strong dissent and 14 concurring opinions, the appeals court ruled that the Florida Legislature pre-empted the regulation of guns by local governments, state agencies and the state's 12 universities when it adopted a law in 2011 that gives state lawmakers exclusive authority to regulate firearms.

The ruling “reaffirmed that the power to regulate firearms rests solely with the Legislature and not anywhere else," said attorney Eric Friday, who represented Lainez and Florida Carry Inc. “The university does not have the right to pass rules and regulations about who may have firearms."

Friday, who called the decision "the biggest of its kind in the 20 years," said the ruling stipulates that while universities have the power to restrict lawful conduct, such as drinking or smoking on campus, that power does not extend to regulating guns.

“Restricting recreational activities is a far cry from restricting a fundamental, constitutional right to keep and bear arms for self-defense,’’ wrote Judge Clay Roberts on behalf of the overwhelming majority in the ruling.

Lainez, a young mother who has had a concealed-carry permit for more than three years, wanted to store a gun in her vehicle while attending classes at UNF so she would have it available for self-defense while traveling to and from campus in Jacksonville.

“I think it’s pretty important to be able to protect myself and my son, especially with that long commute to and from school," she told the Miami Herald on Dec. 6.

UNF regulations prohibit weapons on campus. According to the student handbook printed in 2011 when the case was filed, expressly threatened that violators could be arrested.

Lainez, a member of Florida Carry, sued UNF to change the regulation, but lost at trial to UNF’s argument that it could ban weapons because state law allowed school districts to do so. UNF argued that since it’s a school, it should be considered like a public school district.

“From the beginning, the argument was an absurdity in my mind,” Friday told the AP.

Florida legislators passed a law in 1987 that prohibited local governments from imposing local gun control ordinances stricter than those passed in Tallahassee, but included no way of enforcing it. That led to local governments “thumbing their noses at the Legislature,” Friday said.

In 2011, the Legislature passed another law imposing fines and other penalties, including the removal from office of elected officials and personal damages up to $100,000, for local jurisdictions or agencies that violate the 1987 law.

Most Florida local governments changed their laws to comply before it came into effect Oct 1. UNF and some other agencies didn’t.

The ruling could have broad precedent because, Friday said, it addresses the powers of local governments to adopt ordinances that create a patchwork of conflicting laws that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, putting gun owners at risk of arrest in one town or county for something that is legal in another town or county.

According to Joe Saunders of BizPac Review, the ruling is part of "a gun rights battle being fought in other states where officials in places like libraries and bus companies try to make petty authority grounds for violating constitutional rights."

Saunders writes in a Dec. 11 column that the Michigan Supreme Court in November refused to hear an appeal by a library district in Lansing that claimed it had a right to ban guns in a battle with Michigan Open Carry Inc. National Review’s headline called it a “victory for open carry advocates.”

According to the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL), six states allow concealed carry on public post-secondary school campuses: Colorado, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin.

The NCSL says 22 states leave the decision to ban or allow concealed carry weapons on campuses to each college or university: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.

Another 22 states ban carrying a concealed weapon on a college campus: Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming.

In 2013, at least 19 states introduced legislation to allow concealed carry on campus.  Two bills passed, one in Kansas that allows concealed carry generally and one in Arkansas that allows faculty to carry.  Also in 2013, according to the NCSL, five states introduced legislation to prohibit concealed carry weapons on campus. None passed.
 
For more, go to:
-- Court rules Florida state college students can keep guns in cars

-- FL Appeals Court rules public colleges, universities can't regulate guns on campus

-- Court rules Fla. universities can't regulate guns

-- Florida Appeals Court: Universities can't regulate firearms

-- Florida Court Tells Public University It Can’t Ban Guns In Cars

-- Florida Appeals Court gives OK for guns on college campuses

-- Victory for Self Defense as Judge Rules Students Can Keep Guns on College Campuses

-- GUNS ON CAMPUS: OVERVIEW

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