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Opponents Stand Their Ground As Guns On Campus Legislation Filed In Florida

FSU campus Tallahassee FL
FSU campus Tallahassee FL

A controversial proposal to allow guns to be carried on public college and university campuses in Florida is back. The measure has failed several times in the past but the sponsor believes it’ll have a shot this year since Republicans gained seats in the Florida legislature. The usual opponents are standing their ground on the issue.

Florida is one of 16 states that doesn’t allow guns to be carried on the campuses of its public colleges and universities. Clermont Republican Representative Anthony Sabatini wants to change that.

"It’s about making sure that anybody who goes onto a higher education campus, college, university campus are treated the exact same way there than they would at any public place," said Sabatini. "They shouldn’t be stripped of their rights just because they’re going to college or a university.

For Sabatini, the issue deals with the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and how he believes it should be applied.

"If you believe in the constitution, and you believe in the bill of rights, and you believe in the first amendment you should also believe in the second amendment. It’s a fundamental right," said Sabatini.

This issue isn’t a new one. It’s been proposed several times in the past, always failing. Sabatini believes this year with Republicans having a large advantage in the House, he has a chance.

"There’s a lot of members of the Florida House who believe that the constitution should be protected and that the second amendment is a fundamental right, and that when you strip citizens of their second amendment rights anytime they walk into a college or university campus it's fundamentally unjust and it's wrong," said Sabitini. "And it makes people less safe than they otherwise would be. Period.

Isabelle Datz is a freshman at the University of Central Florida. She says having guns on campus would make her feel less safe.

"I don’t want to be going to tailgates or going to lecture halls knowing that someone could potentially have a gun on their waist," said Datz.

Datz is with Students Demand Action, a group trying to curb gun violence. She uses other states as examples of why Florida shouldn’t allow guns on campuses.

"In Georgia, they passed a similar law in 2017 and in 2019 a University of Georgia student was hospitalized after unintentionally shooting himself in the leg. And we’ve seen how much it would cost too," said Datz. "In Arizona, the cost of a proposed gun on campus bill was estimated at over $13 million in one-time expenses and $3.1 million in annual cost."

Arizona allows the guns on campus issue to be decided by the schools themselves. Datz and SDA are just one of the several groups against campus carry. One of the proposals' biggest opponents has been Florida State University President John Thrasher. The former state Senator, House Speaker, and GOP Chairman doubled-down on his stance against allowing guns on campus during his State of the University address.

"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. "We’ve all experienced enough heartache to know that more guns on campus do not make us safer."

During Thrasher’s tenure as President, the campus has had several run-ins with gun violence. In 2014 an FSU grad and attorney shot and wound three people at Strozier Library, and in 2018 a faculty member and student were killed in a shooting at a local yoga studio.

Sabatini says Thrasher is trying to tear down the constitution.

"John Thrasher is a liberal and wants to keep the liberal teacher and college faculty union happy. So he’s going to tell them he’s going to fight it," said Sabatini. "But I think there are people in the legislature who care more about the constitution than John Thrasher, and they are probably willing to uphold it more than he is."

As for students’ opinions, Sabatini thinks they are uninformed.

"Ninety-nine percent of them have never even seen a copy of the constitution and you can call and ask through a quick survey that many of them don’t even know what the United States Constitution is, that’s how ignorant they are because the public education system in Florida has failed them miserably," said Sabatini.

Sabatini just won his reelection. He says he will file pro-second amendment legislation each year until it's passed.

"I want to give members of the legislature the opportunity to either stand up for the second amendment, stand up for our constitution or to completely disregard, erode, and ignore our constitution," said Sabatini."

Sabatini has built a reputation for his outspokenness on conservative issues.

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