On October 3rd, 2011 Florida Carry, Inc. filed a lawsuit against the University of North Florida (UNF), seeking a permanent injunction to stop the university from enforcing its unlawful ban on firearms and other defensive weapons. We also asked for a court order to repeal their unlawful regulations and remove all preempted signs/publications. Since 1987 the Florida Legislature has preempted firearms law and issued statewide licenses to carry for self-defense. Since 1985 it has been legal for adults to securely store firearms in their cars, even without a state license, on college campuses.
Florida Carry filed this case on behalf of Florida Gun Owners and our members. One such member, Alexandria Lainez, is a single mother who has received extensive training in firearms and self-defense to be prepared to protect herself and her young child should that horrible need arise. Alexandria is a full time student at UNF and worries that she has to choose between her family’s safety and her education on a daily basis while attending college.
On November 11th, 2011 we filed for a Temporary Injunction to protect students’ Right to Bear Arms in their own vehicles, as recognized under Florida law, while the case is pending. After months of waiting for a ruling, we notified the court that this issue should be treated as a priority case. Florida Circuit Court Judge Lawrence P. Haddock immediately issued an order that was published April 4th, 2012. He simply signed the defense’s suggested draft order denying the injunction and then dismissing the case.
Judge Haddock’s woefully under-considered ruling effectively held that Florida colleges, universities, and private corporations that run all manner of “Schools” have the authority to create a felony “Defense Free, Anti-Gun Zone” at will, without legislative oversight or accountability.
The Legislature made it legal to have a securely encased firearm safely stored in a private vehicle parked on campus. Despite this clear statutory language, the court today ruled that, it then gave all schools the authority opt-out of the statute’s provisions to make what the Legislature had declared legal a third degree felony.
The relevant statute says:
A person shall not possess any firearm, … or other weapon … on the property of any school… ; however, a person may carry a firearm:
In a vehicle pursuant to s. 790.25(5); except that school districts may adopt written and published policies that waive the exception in this subparagraph for purposes of student and campus parking privileges.
Since the statute does not provide a definition of “school district” or “refer to the Florida Constitution” Judge Haddock refused to interpret “school district” to mean “school district” as it is defined in the Florida Constitution or even as it is commonly understood by other courts or the people.
After deciding that the Florida Constitution is an insufficient source for a legal definition, Judge Haddock then ignored US Supreme Court precedent and looked to Senate Floor Debate between a few legislators discussing part of a law which passed 11 years earlier; legislation that the cited legislators did not even take part in.
In fact, the Florida Legislature refused to pass a provision in 1997 that would have had the same effect that Judge Haddock’s ruling did today. Instead, the legislature’s 1997’s K-12 School Violence Bill limited the ability to create a felony for possessing a securely encased handgun in your car to the publicly elected officials of School Districts. That entire 1997 bill, HB 1039, was passed to establish “Zero Tolerance” laws that only impacted K-12 Schools.
Judges, attorneys, legislators, and the people of Florida know very well that it would be an unconstitutional grant of authority to allow non-elected bureaucrats and company owners to create a felony. That’s exactly what Judge Haddock has now ruled that all schools in Florida can do. Even private “schools” run by for-profit corporations would be able to create a felony by just publishing a waiver to Florida law.
“It’s outrageous!” Said Sean Caranna, Executive Director of Florida Carry, Inc. “In is haste, Judge Haddock has thrown out the clear legislative intent written in to Florida’s statutes and substituted his own idea of what he thinks the legislature must have meant based on a debate by a few legislators. Floor debate that happened over a decade after the law actually passed! This flies in the face of the Firearms Preemption Enforceability laws we passed just last year.”
No judge has the authority to take few moments of Floor Debate and use them to replace and ignore clear statutory language, the legislature’s expressed (written) intent, and even provisions of the Florida Constitution. We look forward to our appeal of this monstrously unprecedented example of judicial activism.
Just yesterday the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned an eerily similar decision. The Kentucky ruling was based on laws that were based on, and are almost identical to, Florida’s gun laws. The right to securely store a handgun in vehicles parked in student parking has been upheld in Kentucky using many of the same arguments we have put forth.
Early on April 26th 2012, before the Kentucky decision was even known, we notified the lower court that we are appealing this case to the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. Decisions of the DCA are binding throughout the state and we will now move to resolve over 15 years of widespread abuse by Florida colleges and universities of the right to bear arms.