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News Clips 01/24/2014
Ruling Ending Ban of Guns On Campuses Won't Affect Local Colleges, Universities
Source: Lakeland Ledger, 01/23/14
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By Gary White
A federal court ruling that brought an end to outright bans of guns on campuses of Florida's public universities has not had any direct impact in Polk County.
The county does not have an autonomous public university — though it will when Florida Polytechnic University opens in Lakeland in the fall — and representatives from private colleges and Polk State College, a public institution, say the ruling does not affect them.
The First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee ruled in December that the University of North Florida in Jacksonvillle could not prohibit guns from being kept in cars parked on campus. The court sided with a UNF student who sued to challenge the weapons ban with support from the gun-rights group Florida Carry Inc.
The Florida Legislature passed a law in 2008 making it illegal for public and private employers to prohibit employees or visitors from having legally concealed firearms locked in their vehicles on the properties. The law included an exemption for school districts, and the case that led to the December court ruling involved the University of North Florida's claim that it could cite that exemption in banning guns on campus.
The federal court rejected UNF's argument, saying the exemption does not include public universities. Since the ruling was issued, Florida's other public universities have announced they will now allow guns in parked vehicles on their campuses.
Guns are still prohibited from dormitories, classrooms and other areas of campuses. Florida Carry Inc., though, recently filed a suit to force the University of Florida to allow firearms in dorms and school-run apartments.
Barring new legislation, Florida Polytechnic will be required to allow students, employees and guests to have guns in their locked vehicles on campus when it opens. A spokeswoman for Florida Poly said the school has not yet written a policy about weapons on campus but will follow state law.
Polk County has four private, not-for-profit secondary schools: Florida Southern College and Southeastern University in Lakeland, Warner University in Lake Wales and Webber International University in Babson Park. All four are part of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF), a loose association of 31 institutions.
Bob Boyd, general counsel for ICUF, said the organization has reviewed the ruling of the federal court and determined it doesn't affect private colleges and universities. Boyd said the association allows the institutions to set their own campus rules.
“The court ruling in our opinion has only to do with public universities and so would not apply to private colleges,” Boyd said. “We think it was a narrowly drawn ruling that only applied to public universities.”
Boyd said he interpreted the 2008 law as exempting private colleges from the entities required to allow employees and guests to have guns in locked cars.
Florida Southern College does not allow guns on its campus. Asked about its policy, the school issued this statement:
“Florida Southern College prohibits the possession of firearms on its campus. While we believe this fulfills our obligation to protect our students and employees, we are reviewing this policy in light of recent legislation and court cases. We are aware of the statute allowing citizens to keep lawfully owned firearms securely locked in their vehicles and do not interfere with our faculty, staff or students engaging in lawful behavior.”
A spokesman said FSC's campus security guards do not carry guns.
Southeastern University addresses weapons in its student handbook, spokeswoman Dana Davis said. The handbook states that “firearms, explosive, other weapons and dangerous chemicals are not permitted on university premises.”
Davis said security personnel hired by SEU are not armed.
Webber International University President Keith Wade said his school prohibits all weapons on campus.
Warner University did not respond to a request for comment from The Ledger.
Polk State College, which has campuses in Winter Haven, Lakeland, Bartow and Lake Wales, addresses weapons in its Board of Trustees rules. The guidelines forbid “illegal or unauthorized use, possession, or storage of any weapon including firearms, explosives, other weapons, or dangerous chemicals on college premises or at college-sponsored activities.”
Polk State spokeswoman Rachel Pleasant said that rule is based on the 2008 statute.
“The college is monitoring the UNF ruling and will address any issues as they arise,” Pleasant said.
Polk State belongs to the Division of Florida Colleges, which is overseen by the Florida Department of Education. A spokeswoman said the department hasn't taken a legal position on the issue and defers to the interpretations of the member schools.
The University of South Florida has offered classes in Lakeland for decades at a campus owned and operated by Polk State College, which also holds classes there. The December court ruling prompted USF to announce a new policy of allowing guns in vehicles, but that applies only to USF system property, spokesman Adam Freeman said, and not the Lakeland campus.
USF is in the process of a “teach-out” and is scheduled to vacate the Lakeland campus after summer 2015.
For-profit colleges and universities are not allowed to prevent employees and visitors from keeping guns in their cars on those properties, said the leader of the organization that oversees 225 such institutions in Florida. Curtis Austin, executive director of the Florida Association of Post-Secondary Schools and Colleges, said the December ruling, therefore, will not prompt any changes for those schools.
Members in Polk County include Everest University and Florida Technical College, both in Lakeland. The organization also represents not-for-profit schools that are headquartered outside Florida but have campuses in the state, Austin said.
Austin said he expects the issue to be discussed when members hold a conference in February.