Photo by Robert Nelson courtesy of Creative Commons.
Adrian Suarez-Avila/ Staff Writer
In light of a court opinion delivered by the Florida First District Court of Appeal, public universities must comply with the statute that legally allows students to keep firearms in their parked cars on campus.
According to Benjamin Guerrero, assistant chief of the University’s Police Department, the court opinion presented the need of the Police Department to edit its previous policies regarding firearms on campus.
“The way that we interpreted the statute was that a school district could have a written policy that restricted individuals from bringing guns onto the property,” Guerrero said. “What the First DCA held was that Florida’s public universities are not school districts as intended by the legislature.”
As a direct result, the University does not possess the legal authority to draft its own policies banning firearms on campus.
“If the state statute doesn’t apply, where the University Board of Governors has chosen to exercise jurisdiction with respect to maintenance of safety on college campuses, then the University [would have] the right to draft its own policy,” said Leonard Strickman, founding dean and professor at the College of Law.
According to Strickman, in the case that the state statute does apply, the University must comply with what BOG sets forth, losing authority to draft its own policies concerning firearms.
The policy change follows a recent state court decision striking down the University of North Florida’s ban on weapons in cars. On Tuesday, Broward College became the latest school to allow firearms on campus.
While FIU must abide by the Court’s interpretation, students must also respect the requisites for firearm storage, as specified by the court opinion.
[pullquote]”A person can have a firearm in their vehicle as long as it is securely encased and not readily accessible,” Guerrero said. “One can have it in a holster with a safety strap, a locked glove compartment or a gun case with a closing device.”[/pullquote]
The gun must also be out of the student’s reach when both are inside of the vehicle.
Some expressed delight upon receiving the news.
“I think it’s great that students are now being allowed to carry guns in their cars,” said Victor Ponce, a freshman chemistry major. “There are a lot of people out there looking for trouble, and I think students should have a firearm to keep themselves safe.”
Despite the fact that the right to bear arms is a fundamental one, some students could not help but cringe at the thought of this law’s enforcement.
“The state is in full right to allow guns on campus, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to give students the chance to keep guns in their cars,” said Analia Henestrosa, freshman psychology major. “Parties are common on campus and I believe a student who’s been drinking can easily go to their car, grab the gun and cause mayhem.”
Most colleges still don’t allow guns anywhere else on campus, though. But Florida Carry, a gun rights group, filed a lawsuit saying students should have the right to keeps guns in their dorms as people are allowed them in homes.
Other students shared Henestrosa’s concern.
“I believe there have been three or four shootings on college campuses this week,” said Angelica-Joy Dumervil, a junior political science and international relations major.
The most recent shooting on a college campus was a shooting on Jan. 24 at South Carolina State that left a student dead outside his dorm.
[pullquote]“The fact that college campuses are common areas for shootings says a lot about the culture of gun violence in this nation,” Dumervil said. “I only see allowing concealed weapons on campus furthering the violence.”[/pullquote]
Although the recent court opinion may result in legitimate concern among students, UPD said it is prepared to handle the situation effectively.
“We have prepared a training bulletin for our officers, letting them know what the First DCA ruled,” Guerrero said. “And how we, as a law enforcement agency, must comply with its opinion.”
However, there is a desire for change.
“In the meantime, we need to continue to work under the current law and enforce it as it’s written,” Guerrero said. “At least until someone moves forward on this to try to change the statute or there’s another ruling from another court allowing us to draft our own University policy.”