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Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014
Education

USF faces challenge if it fails to lift campus gun ban

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TAMPA — A plaintiff in a lawsuit that overturned a ban on students storing guns in their cars on campus has put the University of South Florida and other state schools on notice: Lift the bans, or you’re next.

A Tallahassee appeals court earlier this month ruled that the University of North Florida could not regulate guns on campus, saying that is the role of the state Legislature. The ruling noted that USF and other state schools have identical or similar policies, and Sean Caranna, executive director of Florida Carry Inc., said it applies to them as well.

“Any college or university in the state that has not taken substantial measures to remove these policies and come in compliance with state law, and hasn’t communicated to students by the first day of classes of the spring semester, we will (target with) additional lawsuits,” said Caranna.

USF’s gun rules are laid out in Policy 6-009, which prohibits possession of firearms on campus in accordance with state statute. But the USF policy goes a step further in what officials believed to be an exception for public school districts, “meaning that vehicles parked upon USF System property are not entitled to contain firearms,” according to the policy.

A Duval County circuit judge had dismissed the lawsuit. But the First District Court of Appeal reversed the lower court, ruling that a university is not a school district.

USF is on holiday shutdown, but a spokeswoman issued a statement: “The USF policy is currently being reviewed and will be up for comment through the established channels.”

The news brought cheers from a gun rights advocate on campus. “I think it’s the right move in the direction of our constitutional rights,” said Emily Schwab, head of the College Republicans at USF. “We see such limited freedom of everything on campus. … It’s a deterioration of our constitutional rights, and seeing something like this ruled in our favor is a fantastic move.”

Schwab and a handful of like-minded students staged an “empty holster” protest in April, strapping on the cases to denounce the campus gun ban. Florida is one of 22 states that do not allow guns on college campuses.

The University of North Florida lawsuit was filed in October 2011 by Florida Carry, a Lehigh Acres-based advocacy group, and lead plaintiff Alexandria Lainez, a student at UNF in Jacksonville.

The ruling “is a great reaffirmation of the right to bear arms outside of your home and in your car,” Caranna said.

Schools and universities have been the scenes of some of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. In April 2007, a student at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., killed 32 people on campus and wounded a number of others in the single worst incident.

UNF President John Delaney said the Jacksonville university would not appeal to the state Supreme Court, and told students they were welcome to store firearms in their cars on campus.

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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Editor's note: A previous version had a different spelling for Sean Caranna.

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