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Gun control debate continues in Florida

Concealed carry laws are currently being debated in the state Senate with passionate testimony on either side of the argument. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Whether in campus current events or on a national stage, shots continue to be fired in the gun control debate.

Two state Senate committees will hold hearings on controversial gun bills today at 9 a.m., one of which aims specifically at allowing anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry a firearm on university campuses.

The other bill, proposed by the Criminal Justice Subcommittee, would allow conceal-carry permit-holders to carry openly.

The hearings, set for 9 a.m., follow preliminary approval from the state’s Republican-led Legislature. According to a Tampa Bay Times article, the guns-on-campus bill from the Higher Education Committee received favorable votes last month from committees in both the House and Senate while the open-carry legislation received a favorable vote from the House two weeks ago.

In March, 10 police chiefs from agencies at the state’s universities testified against Rep. Greg Steube’s guns-on-campus bill, including two representatives from USF.

In an interview with The Oracle last month, University Police (UP) Assistant Chief Chris Daniel said the main concern an officer would have with open-carry laws is the threat of shooting the wrong individual if a situation ever arose where the cops arrive and see two individuals, the shooter and the student attempting to help, holding guns.

Daniel said another main issue is that once guns are allowed on campus, you must treat everyone like they have a gun on them, which can lead to shooting someone who may be innocent. 

“Policemen have to have hours of training (with firearms) and they have to do shoot-don’t-shoot training and proficiency training,” he said. “With (a private concealed-carry permit), you take a class for a few hours and they just teach you how use the firearm — it is very minimal training.” 

Also for committee consideration are amendments for the bills. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Sen. Maria Sachs is suggesting allowing universities to opt out of the guns-on-campus bill and Sen. Rob Bradley wants to amend the other bill so private property owners can decide whether people are allowed to carry firearms on their property.

Sandra Sawan, political director for the College Republicans at USF, said the guns-on-campus bill has her complete support. 

Having guns on campus, she said, gives students one more resource to protect themselves from any potential danger.

Sawan participated in last year’s empty holster protests led by Students for Concealed Carry, where students strapped on empty holsters to symbolize their rights being taken from the law-abiding permit holders. 

“If criminals are going to come to campus with a gun and commit a crime, they are not going to care that the rules state they are not allowed to bring guns on campus — they are going to bring them and do whatever they want,” Sawan said.

State Director of Florida Students for Concealed Carry, Rebekah Hargrove, said she would feel much better if she was allowed to bring her firearm to Florida State University.

“I am a graduate student and that means most of my classes are during the night,” she said. “FSU, and I imagine many other universities, does not have great parking and I have to park in spaces that are far away from my building. It’s dark, I am alone and I feel vulnerable. 

“If I was allowed to bring my gun, I would feel so much safer because I have a way to defend myself.”

The gun control debate was brought to national attention once again this month, when a shooter at Umpqua Community College in Oregon shot and killed an assistant professor and eight students Oct. 1. Nine other students were injured.

In light of the shooting, President Barack Obama addressed the nation, asking “the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws, and to save these lives and let these people grow up.”

In 2015 alone, there have been 297 mass shootings — incidents that injure or kill four or more people — for this year’s 278 days, as reported by the Washington Post. 

Following the Oregon shooting, Obama suggested people had “become numb” to shootings. 

According to the Times article, however, the committees in Tallahassee today are expected to hear passionate debates from both sides of the issue.