A state appeals court Friday rejected arguments by a gun-rights group that sought to overturn a University of Florida ban on firearms in residence halls and other university housing.
The group Florida Carry Inc. argued that people have a right to possess guns in their homes, including in university housing. But a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld an Alachua County circuit judge’s ruling last year that sided with the Gainesville university.
In part, the appeals court pointed to a state law that bars possession of guns on school property, including college and university campuses. It weighed that against another law that says people have a right to possess guns in their homes.
“Under appellant’s (Florida Carry’s) interpretation, the Legislature intended, without specifically stating so, to prohibit firearms on school property except for any place that might be considered a student’s home while on school property,” said the ruling, written by Judge Joseph Lewis. “Reaching that result, however, requires a strained interpretation of the statutes involved.”
The ruling by a three-judge panel came amid a high-profile legislative debate about whether people with concealed-weapons licenses should be able to carry guns on college and university campuses. Gun-rights supporters are lobbying for that change, while many university-system officials and a majority of Floridians have opposed it.
Florida Carry filed the lawsuit against the University of Florida and former university President Bernie Machen in January 2014 (see the legal history of the case), shortly after winning another gun-rights case involving the University of North Florida. In that case, the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled that universities cannot bar students from storing guns in their cars while on campus. But the appeal court today pointed to that decision in support of its conclusion in the more recent case: “Our conclusion as to this issue is further buttressed by our UNF decision, where, in an en banc opinion, we held that a state university may not prohibit the carrying of a securely encased firearm within a motor vehicle that is parked in university campus parking,” the opinion reads.
In court briefs, Florida Carry argued that the law about possessing guns in homes superseded the law about guns on school property. The organization objected to the University of Florida’s workplace violence policy which, Florida Carry argued, “states that carrying a weapon (without limiting it to on the job possession) is a warning sign and an unacceptable behavior to address that should be reported, and equates carrying a firearm, as on par with being involved in fights, stalking family members, and making threats of violence or suicide.”
The organization also pointed to the U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has been more than clear that laws which prohibit the best means to exercise the right of self-defense in the home, are prohibited under the Constitution of the United States,” Florid Carry attorneys Eric Friday and Lesley McKinney wrote in a brief filed in January. “Florida’s Constitution cannot be interpreted to mean any less.”
But the University of Florida disputed that the federal or state constitutions guarantee the right to have firearms in university housing.
“The Florida Legislature has struck a balance between preserving the right to bear arms for self-defense and protecting the safety and peace of mind of Florida citizens,” the university’s attorney, Barry Richard, wrote in a March brief. “In service of the latter interest, Florida law has long designated certain sensitive areas, including school and university campuses, as largely gun-free zones.”
The trial court upholding the ban had supported that interpretation. Unlike the right to have a firearm in a vehicle, the trial court wrote, “the legislature’s recognition of a person’s right to possess a firearm in a home does not extend to a residence hall on a university campus. There is no exception in [state law] for a residence hall like there is for a vehicle. The distinction in treatment between vehicles and residence halls indicates that the legislature did not intend to make an exception for residence halls. In the context of the issues raised in this case, [UF’s] regulation doesn’t violate preemption by stating that firearms are not permitted on campus, but simply recognizes what the legislature has enacted.”
Today’s ruling by the appeal court suggested that lawmakers would have to take action if they want guns to be allowed in university housing.
“While the Legislature may choose to one day amend the current law to permit firearms in university housing, our interpretation of the pertinent statutes leads us to the conclusion that it has not yet done so,” Lewis wrote in the 28-page decision.
Judges Scott Makar and Timothy Osterhaus agreed with the outcome of Lewis’ ruling and wrote opinions that concurred in part with the reasoning.
–News Service of Florida and FlaglerLive