Critics and supporters of a bill to allow guns on college campuses are turning up the heat on each other over whats shaping up to be one of the most controversial bills to hit the state Legislature this year.
The bill, SB 176, would lift the ban on carrying concealed weapons at state colleges and universities.
SB 176s sponsor, Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, says the measure would serve as a good defense mechanism against sex offenders near campus.
The problem is that in gun-free zones, that we have on college campuses right now, those gun-free zones are just an incubator for folks that wont follow the law, Evers said last week, pointing to a map of sex offenders near Florida State University.
FSU has become a hotspot for campus gun safety after a gunman shot three people at the college's library last November.
Evers bill has already struck a chord with the media and gun rights activists in Florida -- a Gainesville Sun editorial said there was a fear factor in the bill which has led Republican legislators to ignore opposition from universities across the state.
The editorial pointed to a letter sent two weeks ago from the Board of Governors saying lifting the ban would be contrary to the values we embrace and could create new challenges in our ability to provide a safe and secure learning environment."
Media organizations have been quick to criticize the bill.
Has Evers read the news in recent months? asked the Sun. Police have been criticized for shooting suspects who were unarmed or had toy guns. Adding more real guns to the mix would only increase the confused gunfire.
Not so fast, says Marion Hammer, former president and current lobbyist for the pro-gun National Rifle Association.
If there was anything to fear, says Hammer, it was the parade of college and university professors attempting to lobby the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee without facts.
Evers legislation would help students protect themselves against violent crimes, said Hammer.
Too often, college campuses are gun-free zones where murderers, rapists and other violent criminals can commit their crimes without fear of being harmed by their victims, wrote Hammer in a retort to the Sun. This is not raising the panic level -- it is a fact.
She pointed to universities failures to stop underage drinking as an excuse to prohibit gun owners from carrying on campus.
Additionally, Hammer said allowing licensed guns on college campuses would be helpful in the event of a crime because police often arrive after the attack has occurred. If students have their own means of self-defense, theres a higher likelihood theyll be able to stop the crime.
Police can't stop the crime -- only the victim has a chance to actually stop it, she wrote. Denying the tools of self-defense creates more victims.
If passed, Florida would become the seventh state to allow guns on college campuses. Evers bill passed on a 3-2 vote, but it still needs to get through three other committees before its heard on the Senate floor.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen