Packing Heat on Campus

Florida law makers are about to radically change gun laws in the state. Rachel DiVeta hits the dirt to chronicle Floridians’ reactions to this news.

There are only a few topics in the United States of America that are as controversial as gun laws depending on who you talk to. This controversy is nearing a boiling point in Florida as SB 140 makes its way through the state’s legislature.

In the bill, which may become law July 1, 2017, state Legislators are propositioning an amending to s. 790.06, F.S. which will allow “a compliant licensee to openly carry a handgun; revising the list of specified locations into which a licensee may not openly carry a handgun or carry a concealed weapon or firearm.” Should the Legislature of the State of Florida enact this new law, it means open carry and concealed weapons will be allowed on college campuses. A similar initiative was blocked last year when the then Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, former Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, refused to hear the bill, Senator Greg Steube, R-Sarasota.

In the state of Florida you must be 21 or older to have concealed carry permit, but you may have a firearm (shotgun/ rifle) kept in your car at the age of 18 (as a car is considered property).

With the new possibility of  students and faculty, staff, or any vistors who holds a concealed weapons permit to openly carry guns on University and College campuses and in K-12 schools, it means some of the state’s 1.7 million concealed weapons permit-holders can now legally, openly carry guns on campuses statewide.

At Valencia College, some faculty associations are already organizing a resistance to this development. In an email dated Jan. 19, 2017, Aaron Powell, a Spanish professor, called on his colleague to “to contact [their] State Senator and House Representative to share [their] views” since “these bills [SB 140 and SHB 6005] would directly affect our workplace.”

Some believe that carrying a gun on campus will help put an end to gun attacks on campuses while other people like Ali Akbari a recent graduate of Seminole State and current UCF student, don’t agree with the envisaged efficacy of the proposed law. According to him, “I think we are wandering into a dangerous territory where safety is only perceived at a surface level.” This is a level where guns will become the norm in Math or English classes and students become desensitized to the sight of a firearm.

He goes on to state: “We forget how this change may generate a sense of unease and a presence of imminent danger to the students and faculty, which could prevent them in achieving academic goals.” While coming to school with a gun currently can be a cause for expulsion or even arrest, the new law would make it legal to have guns in backpacks.

In response to The Seminole Scribe inquiry, the president of the College Student Government Association, Caleb Hylton, states: “The most important thing when it comes to concealed carry is that these people have been properly trained and cleared for carrying a gun….” He cautiously states that the student government is hoping that students can come to school and “everything works out” noting that the SGA “will approach what will happen if the bill goes through.”

Teachers can face the decision to carry firearms on their person as well. Michael Rinyu, a high school teacher in Ormond Beach, parent of two young children, and owner of firearms with a concealed carry license states: “I absolutely do not agree with this possible law change. I find it reckless and dangerous.” He goes on to point out the responsibility that comes with having a gun within reach, “Part of carrying a firearm is that it is a severe lifestyle change. You must always be conscious of the weapon. The stress and hectic environment of a school precludes the idea that it would even be possible for me to ‘give my attention and respect’ to the weapon I would be carrying.”

Another point that is made by Rinyu, is that many teachers in grade schools participate and help facilitate after school activities and clubs, some being more physically demanding than others. Rinyu states: “I, for instance, coach wrestling. This requires me to actively show technique… It would be wildly irresponsible of me to remove a firearm and store it anywhere off of my person during this time.”

On the pro concealed carry on campus is Tamia McRae, a current Seminole State student who believes that guns should be allowed on campus. “People have the right to protect themselves…but I also believe that there should be certain restrictions and better training for it.” Although unsure if she would actually carry a firearm on her in class, she does believe that more regulations should be placed on gun laws, since “it takes months for you to get drivers licenses but it takes you like a week to get a gun.” With most of her siblings still in secondary school and a mother that teaches middle school, McRae says, “If more teachers are allowed to have guns it can help protect from school shootings. I would feel safer if they could protect themselves and their students.”

Police are the first responders to crimes and tragedies, but one deputy at the Seminole County Sheriffs’ office believes that this would be great if college students, teachers, and staff with concealed carry permits could have their firearms on them. According to the deputy who does not want to be named in this story, “In the event of a school shooting or a criminal issue, students and faculty could be prepared to defend themselves and others at a moment’s notice.”

Even with the protection of law enforcement, Smith states “ I also believe this creates a sense of protection over schools as a pre-defense against shootings… this might give them (possible shooters) incentive to stay away in the first place.” While stating that most of his work colleagues felt good about the proposed bill, some were still a bit skeptical on the details.

While some sit on the fence and others ponder on the motivation behind the proposed amendment to existing laws of the state of Florida, some do believe it is the first step to protection against a lone wolf criminal that aims to hurt defenseless civilians. But Michael Rinyu remains stern in his beliefs that guns in schools are a dangerous move. “I understand the need for safety and, in most cases, truly believe that good people with guns can stop bad guys. This measure, however, is a big step in the wrong direction and will do more harm than good.”

Additional report by David Fernandez

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