TAMPA — Universities are justified in banning guns in residence halls, a judge has ruled in a case that challenged the University of Florida's policy.
The gun-rights group Florida Carry Inc., which has filed suit against several universities and municipalities, argued in a suit filed in January that the state law making it legal to possess a firearm at home trumped another that bans weapons on school property.
But Alachua County Circuit Judge Toby Monaco entered a summary judgment on Wednesday stating that UF and President Bernie Machen were not violating Florida law by recognizing the Legislature's prohibition against guns in housing on university property.
Florida Carry last year won a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal asserting that the Legislature has sole jurisdiction for gun policy, and universities could not ban weapons stored in vehicles.
“Unlike the right to have a firearm in a vehicle, 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,” Monaco said in this week's order. “There is no exception in (state law) for a residence hall like there is for a vehicle.”
The university released a statement saying it was pleased with the ruling.
“The University of Florida fully complies with Florida law that allows individuals 18 years or older to store their guns securely in vehicles while on campus, as determined by a 1st DCA decision last year, and the university will continue to do so,” the statement said. “Florida law otherwise bans guns on university, college and K-12 campuses and at their events, with limited exceptions such as for law enforcement.”
Sean Caranna, executive director of Florida Carry, said the group would soon file notice for Monaco to reconsider the case and would appeal if he does not do so.
“The judge failed to conduct any analysis of the right to bear arms and completely ignored the operative portions of our complaint,” Caranna said.
Florida Carry originally sued the University of North Florida in 2011. A judge threw out the suit, but the Tallahassee appeals court took up the case and ruled that universities' bans on weapons in cars went too far.
The group has since sued several schools -- including St. Petersburg College -- for not complying with the court ruling. Caranna said Friday that St. Petersburg College was “coming around” and that suit should be settled soon.
The University of South Florida lifted its ban on guns stored in vehicles after the ruling. A University Police spokeswoman said guns will continue to be banned in USF campus housing.
Florida Carry also has active suits against the city of Tallahassee and Broward County over gun policies the group says are not lawful under the appellate court's ruling.