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Florida House committee approves bill to allow guns at college

The vote came two months after a shooting at Florida State University that wounded three people.
A detail view of a pistol. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty)
A detail view of a pistol.

A Republican-led House committee in Florida this week approved a measure that could allow students to carry guns and concealed weapons on college campuses — just two months after a shooter injured three people at a Florida State University library.

Republican State Rep. Greg Steube, who filed the bill, said the measure would make campuses safer by allowing gun owners to intervene in shooting situations. The lawmaker said he doesn't think that law-abiding citizens who successfully obtain their firearms licenses should be stripped of their constitutional rights simply because they walked from a shopping plaza across the street to a college campus.

Gun-free zones, he said, don't prevent shootings from happening, citing the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre that killed 32 people and wounded 17 more.

Florida law currently prevents adults with firearms licenses from carrying weapons into various locations, including grade schools, prisons, courthouses, and polling places. In contrast to college campuses, most of those buildings, Steube argues, already have armed government officials or metal detectors present.

"Just because an area is called 'gun-free,' that doesn’t stop the criminals from walking on and creating havoc," he told msnbc. "These ‘gun-free zones’ certainly don’t protect the innocent people that are there just because there is a law prohibiting people from carrying a firearm."

RELATED: South Carolina lawmaker wants mandatory gun classes in schools

If the law is passed, students who are at least 21 years old and own a firearms license would be allowed to carry concealed guns on college or university campuses. During the House hearing on Tuesday, Steube said the requirement still would exclude younger college students and comprise less than 1% of the state's permit holders.

In November, a former student of Florida State opened fire inside the library and injured two students and a school employee. The police fatally shot him after he fired a round at officers. Steube told his colleagues at the hearing that he began drafting the bill before the Florida State shooting.

The measure was split along party lines, with eight Republicans supporting the measure and four Democrats opposing it.

Two other House committees must approve the measure before it moves forward. If passed, it will take effect on July 1 and make Florida the eighth state to allow guns on campuses, joining Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin.

Steube has reintroduced a similar bill in the past three years that would allow guns in elementary, middle, and high schools. It has yet to pass the state Senate.

Last April, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a sweeping gun bill into law that allows firearms in several different kinds of buildings and areas, including in school classrooms. The legislation was deemed the "guns everywhere bill."

Since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 12, 2014, nearly 100 school shootings have occurred on American soil, the FBI says mass shootings are on the rise, and active-shooter and lockdown drills have become part of students' routines. 

The Sunshine State received an “F” grade and ranked 32 out of the 50 states in the most recent annual scorecard published at the end of December by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The letter reflects the southern state’s weak gun laws, which do not require background checks on private sales, and allow for the purchase of assault weapons.