Students attending public universities in Florida may keep firearms in their vehicles while on campus, a state appeals court ruled December 10. In its 12-3 decision, the 1st District Court of Appeal signaled that the Florida Legislature ultimately holds the power to regulate firearms, trumping local governments and state agencies. The potentially far-reaching ruling was viewed by many in the pro-Second Amendment community as an indication the Legislature will act to block universities from prohibiting concealed carry on state campuses.
The legal issue of pre-empting all gun-control authority to the state Legislature is expected to be taken up in the 2014 legislative session. The rare opinion decided by the entire appeals court prompted a strong dissent as well as multiple concurring opinions.
"No one would doubt that a university has the power to prohibit a student from smoking in a dormitory or drinking an alcoholic beverage on campus, even though smoking and drinking may be perfectly lawful in other circumstances," Justice Phil Padavano wrote in his dissenting opinion.
"Restricting recreational activities is a far cry from restricting a fundamental, constitutional right to keep and bear arms for self-defense," wrote Judge Clay Roberts. The decision was supported by a majority of the fifteen judges on the bench, and applies to all twelve of Florida's public universities.
The case arose when Alexandria Lainez, a member of Florida Carry Inc., sought a court order to permit her to keep a handgun used for personal protection locked in her vehicle during classes at the University of North Florida. A circuit court denied her request. Lainez and Florida Carry appealed. The university argued it should have authority to prohibit firearms on campus, just as county school boards can prevent otherwise legal carrying of guns in elementary, middle and high schools under Florida law.
"The Legislature has pre-empted UNF from independently regulating firearms," said the ruling, which drew five concurring opinions, with several judges agreeing with different parts of the majority decision.