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Appeals Court To Consider Guns In Florida College Dorms

Dorm interior
University of Florida

After a high-profile legislative debate this spring about concealed weapons on college campuses, a state appeals court is poised to hear arguments in a dispute about whether guns should be allowed in residence halls and other housing at the University of Florida.

Next Tuesday, the First District Court of Appeal is scheduled to take up a case filed by the group Florida Carry Inc., which says people have a legal right to possess firearms in their homes, including in university housing. An Alachua County circuit judge last year sided with the University of Florida in rejecting the group's arguments in the case.

In court briefs, Florida Carry pointed to a state law that seeks to ensure people can have firearms in their homes and to the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment. It said the state law about guns in homes supersedes another law that generally bars guns at schools and colleges.

"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,'' Florida 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 disputes that the federal or state constitutions guarantee the right to have firearms in university housing. Also, in a brief filed in March, the university pointed to other places that it said lawmakers have designated as "firearms-free zones," including courthouses, polling places and bars.

"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 the 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."

Florida Carry, which posted briefs and other documents from the case on its website, filed the lawsuit in January 2014, 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.

That ruling rippled through the university system. In the case before the appeals court next week, Florida Carry also contends that the University of Florida did not properly carry out the ruling about guns in cars --- a contention that Alachua County Circuit Judge Toby S. Monaco also rejected last year.

The appeals-court arguments come after a closely watched legislative debate this spring about whether people with concealed-weapons licenses should be allowed to carry guns on college and university campuses. The proposal stalled in a Senate committee, but the National Rifle Association has already signaled the issue will come back during the 2016 legislative session.

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Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.