Florida colleges relax gun policies

Florida's colleges and universities are pulling the trigger on zero tolerance for guns on campus.

Broward College on Tuesday became the latest school to allow firearms on campus, provided they are kept locked inside vehicles. The policy change follows a recent state court decision striking down the University of North Florida's ban on weapons in cars.

Most colleges still don't allow guns anywhere else on campus, but even that is under fire. Florida Carry, a gun rights group, has filed a lawsuit saying students should have the right to keep guns in their dorms since Florida specifically allows them in homes. And dorms and apartments are a student's home, said the group's lawyer, Eric Friday.

"Students have a fundamental, constitutional right in the U.S. and Florida constitutions to defend their lives against criminal attacks," Friday said.

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Nicholas Hanley, student government president on the college's north campus, said he thinks college should be a totally gun-free zone.

"If there's an altercation on campus, or a student gets angry with another student or professor, I don't want them to go their parking lot and get a gun," said Hanley, 23, of Coral Springs.

Florida Atlantic University has allowed guns in cars since 2011, spokesman Joshua Glanzer said, and officials at Palm Beach State College, Miami-Dade College and Florida International University say they are adjusting their policies to do the same.

The University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University in Davie both still prohibit firearms anywhere on campus, including vehicles.

"We are not changing our policy. The law only applies to public colleges and universities," said NSU spokeswoman Julie Spechler.

Teresa Hodge, a Broward College math professor who also heads the faculty union, said "there's no issue" if guns are kept in the car.

But "if people started walking into the classroom with weapons, that would be a different story," she said.

Law enforcement officers at most colleges oppose allowing guns anywhere on campus, said Florida State University Police Chief David Perry, president-elect of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

"It's just not the right environment," he said. "It presents an opportunity for those weapons to be used — and also stolen."

Six states — Colorado, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin — allow the carrying of concealed weapons anywhere on campus. The University of Colorado in 2012 created a "gun dorm" for permit holders, but it attracted little interest from students after it launched.

A proposal to allow concealed weapons on Florida campuses failed in the Legislature in 2011 after opposition from law enforcement in the state.

Charles Berichi, 25, an FAU student government leader, is a concealed permit holder who lives on campus but stores his gun off-campus. He said he doesn't want students to have unfettered access to guns on campus unless they've had plenty of training.

But he said FAU may be able to come up with some alternatives, such as allowing students to check their weapons with campus police for safekeeping.

"I think we could come up with some changes that are reasonable, feasible, convenient and also safe," he said.

Orlando Sentinel writer Denise Ordway contributed to this story.

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