Florida state colleges and universities cannot have their own regulations concerning firearms on campus since all gun rules are to be established under state law, according to a recent ruling by the First Florida District Court of Appeals.
The ruling in a case brought by a University of North Florida commuter student against the school is the first, under a state preemption statute since it was amended in 2011, to allow for penalties to be assigned to state agencies found not to be in compliance.
In essence, the ruling affirms that the regulation of firearms and ammunition is exclusively the purview of the state legislature. One of the only exceptions is in the case of school districts, and the court found that colleges do not qualify.
Understanding The Details Of The Case
In the recent case, Alexandria Lainez vs. the University of North Florida, Alexandria Lainez, a UNF senior, was licensed to carry a concealed weapon and wanted to take a gun with her during her commute to class across Jacksonville. However, university rules would not allow her to keep the gun stored in her car while she was parked on campus. Violations of those rules, the college contended, could result in academic sanctions or legal prosecution.
Attorneys for UNF initially won the lower court trial by claiming an exemption to the preemption statute, arguing that the college should be considered a school district. Public school districts in the state can prohibit or otherwise regulate firearms on school property.
The plaintiffs, Ms. Lainez and Florida Carry, Inc., argued that firearms properly stored in a vehicle are allowed under state law and that UNF does not qualify for an exemption.
In overturning the initial court ruling, the appeals court said that there was an inherent difference between a public college run by the Board of Governors and a school district as defined by state statute.
Deciding On The Proper Setting To Hold Trial
The case originally was heard on appeal by a three-member panel of judges, but during the hearing, the judges brought up the issue of whether the college’s status as a creation of the legislature might give it similar power to regulate firearms. This prompted the move to continue the case before the full 15-member court.
In the written explanations for the panel’s 12 to 3 ruling against UNF, one justice joked that those who dissented wanted to establish a fourth branch of government, an “eduslative” branch. Others criticized the court for even considering the constitutional aspects of the case, since the legislature had not indicated there should be any exemptions for the university system, as there had been for the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission in its job of regulating hunting weapons.
As a result of this ruling, public colleges or universities can no longer restrict a student from carrying a gun on campus if the weapon is kept secured in the student’s vehicles while the student is in class. Students had been liable for at least administrative and even academic punishment if found in violation of campus rules.
Ms. Lainez is a founding member of Florida Carry, which is a non-profit organization that promotes gun rights through lobbying, and providing help in legal cases brought against restrictive gun legislation.