As my colleague Tom Knighton reported here earlier in the week, a bill to legalize campus carry has been introduced in the Florida legislature for the third year in a row. Rep. Anthony Sabatini’s bill didn’t even get a legislative hearing last session, but the higher ed lobby in the state is already beginning to speak out about this year’s bill.
On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co we take a closer look at the fight for the right to carry on campus in Florida, starting with recent comments made by the president of Florida State University during his “state of the university” address. John Thrasher’s not only one of the most powerful figures in public education in Florida, he’s a former lawmaker who’s pledging to stand firm in opposition to expanding the right to carry onto college campuses.
“I don’t want this to be the top of the story by the way, but I want to make the pledge to you one more time that I’ve made every year, that I will continue to fight any kind of campus carry legislation.” said Thrasher, a former Republican Florida House Speaker and State Senator. “We’ve all experienced enough heartache to know that more guns on campus do not make us safer.”
Thrasher’s likely referring to a shooting on campus back in 2014, when a former student entered the Strozier Library on campus and opened fire, wounding three students before he was killed by police. Of course the gunman in that attack completely ignored the fact that Florida State is a “gun-free campus,” which isn’t surprising given the fact that he was intent on targeting human lives. Once someone’s decided to break the law against committing murder, violating a gun-free zone isn’t likely to weigh heavily on the mind.
Florida is home to more than 2-million concealed carry holders, and the state’s violent crime and homicide rate has plummeted by more than 50% since the state’s carry law went into effect in the late 1980s. Concealed carry holders aren’t causing problems off campus, so why would Thrasher and other opponents of campus carry presume that these otherwise lawful gun owners are going to turn into outlaws and monsters if they’re allowed to step on to campus with their legally concealed firearm?
For Thrasher, the answer may be more personal than political. Back in 2011, when Thrasher was serving as the chair of the state Senate’s rule committee, he ended up killing a campus carry bill that he’d supported just one year earlier.
The reason? The daughter of Thrasher’s dentist had been accidentally shot and killed by her boyfriend during a late-night party at an off-campus fraternity. The boyfriend, who at 18 did not possess a concealed-carry license, told police he did not know his rifle was loaded. He also admitted to drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.
Thrasher told one newspaper that the decision to kill the 2011 bill was “beyond personal.”
That incredibly tragic and reckless event had nothing to do with campus carry, but clearly the facts of the shooting mattered less to Thrasher than the idea of having “more guns on campus,” and he’s been opposed to the idea ever since.
As I detail in today’s program, I support campus carry because of another story involving a different woman on a college campus thousands of miles away from Florida State. Amanda Collins was a student at the University of Nevada-Reno when she was brutally raped in a campus parking garage within sight of the UNR campus police station. As a concealed carry holder, Collins would have been armed on campus but for the rules that barred her and others from lawfully carrying.
I was the first reporter to speak to Collins about the sexual assault and the aftermath, including the fact that university president told her after she had been raped that he would allow her to carry her gun from then on, as long as she didn’t tell any other student because they might want to do the same. Hearing her story brought the issue home to me in a way I’d never considered before, and I’ve been a vocal supporter of campus carry ever since.
There’s simply no logical reason why someone who can legally carry in restaurants, grocery stores, shopping malls, movie theaters, and churches should be barred from exercising that same right on a college campus, and though the Florida legislation undoubtably faces an uphill climb in the 2021 legislative session, I’m hoping that the third time is indeed the charm for this live-saving measure.