Lawsuit aims to shoot down UF firearms policy
Published: Monday, January 13, 2014 at 6:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 13, 2014 at 6:28 p.m.
Florida Carry Inc.’s lawsuit against the University of Florida and President Bernie Machen aims to do more than allow guns in campus dorms.
It blasts away at the university’s gun policies and regulations as illegally restricting the rights of students, faculty and employees to carry weapons in an attempt to further broaden the rights of people to carry guns on college and university campuses.
“There is no basis for any rule or regulation regarding firearms by UF, no matter how well-intentioned or reasonable where the Legislature has expressly pre-empted such rules and regulations,” the lawsuit says.
The nonprofit gun rights group won a 1st District Court of Appeal decision in December that state universities could not prevent people from storing guns on campus. The group threatened to sue any state university that didn’t change its rules to make it clear that students and faculty could store guns in their cars on campus.
“We are not going to stand by while universities continue to deny fundamental constitutional rights to self-defense,” said Eric Friday, attorney for the group. “We will pursue on a case-by-case basis to require colleges to come into compliance with what the 1st District ruled.”
UF took down a police department policy from its website that banned gun storage in cars on campus and added a footnote to its regulation that it would follow the decision of the appeals court.
Florida Carry said the university’s action didn’t go far enough because it didn’t inform students and faculty of their right to keep guns in cars.
“This blatant attempt to continue to regulate the use and possession of firearms in light of recent court decisions is a willful and knowing violation of the statute by UF,” the suit says.
The 1st DCA gave no orders requiring other universities to change their policies.
UF had still not received a copy of the lawsuit as of Monday, UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said.
“To be very clear, UF is in full compliance with Florida law that bans guns on school and university campuses, including in residence halls,” Sikes said. “UF is also fully complying with the 1st DCA ruling that allows individuals 18 years or older to securely store guns in vehicles on campus.”
Sean Caranna, the director of Florida Carry, said the university has a responsibility to inform students and faculty of that right. Florida Carry filed its lawsuit after Caranna failed to get university attorneys to meet with him to rewrite its regulations to the group’s satisfaction.
The group has said university policies go beyond what the Constitution and state law allow, Caranna said. Caranna said he also wanted to address policies that restrict what routes people can drive while carrying a weapon, the requirement that they store weapons in the university police station and the prohibition against keeping guns in dorm rooms.
Even though state law prohibits firearms and weapons on university and college campuses, the lawsuit said that the Legislature has sole authority to regulate the “manner of bearing arms.” The suit also says that state law allowing a person to have a weapon in their home or business also supersedes the prohibition against guns on campus.
The lawsuit dissects the university regulation — saying UF can’t dictate the roads and intersections students must use while transporting weapons on and off campus or require the firearms to be unloaded. It says UF can’t prohibit firearms on campus that were not specifically authorized by UF police and that it can’t prohibit keeping firearms in UF housing.
The suit also says UF can’t require employees living at a research center to store firearms unloaded, trigger-locked and locked securely in a part of the house that renders it “useless for purposes of self-defense.”
The suit further challenges UF’s authority to impose administrative penalties for violating its pre-emptive regulations.
The suit also attacks UF’s workplace violence policy, which states that carrying a weapon “is a warning sign and unacceptable behavior to address that should be reported, and equates carrying a firearm with fighting, stalking and making threats of suicide or violence.”
It also takes issue with the part of UF’s student conduct code that prohibits the possession, use, sale or distribution of any firearm, ammunition, weapon or similar device — including stun guns, pellet guns, BB guns, paintball guns, slingshots, archery equipment, biological and chemical agents, and knives.
The lawsuit also accuses UF of previously punishing students or referring them for criminal prosecution for having a gun in their car while on campus.
UPD Maj. Brad Barber said he could not recall any incidents in which students were stopped by police for carrying firearms in their cars. “It is not something that comes to my mind,” Barber said.
UPD received a weapons complaint last fall in which a person who tried entering a UF soccer match carrying a firearm was ordered to take his weapon back to his vehicle, Barber said.
UF officials and UPD Chief Linda Stump were opposed to legislation introduced two years ago that would have allowed permitted firearms to be carried on campus. At the time, Stump said, no one in higher education or law enforcement would want guns on campus. She also said that letting people on campus with firearms could lead to innocent people being shot.
“Chief Stump has not changed her position on that at all,” Barber said.
When he was president of the University of Utah, President Machen opposed legislation that allowed guns on campus in that state.
“We agree with and support current state law,” Machen said Monday in an email to The Sun.
State Sen. Greg Evers, R-Milton, said he still supports having guns on campus but won’t reintroduce the legislation he sponsored in 2011 to allow people with permits to carry guns on campus — a measure that Florida Carry supported.
He said the 1st DCA made the right decision about allowing guns to be kept in cars on campus and was confident the court will make the right decision on campuswide gun possession.
“It’s ultimately an argument for the courts to decide and make a determination as to how far it goes,” Evers said. “If not, then the laws can be changed and the courts can revisit the issue.”