By James Call, July 18, 2017
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Tuesday students should be able to carry guns on campus.
Speaking at a National Guard Armory to mark his office’s expedited processing of 82,000 concealed weapons permit applications for guardsmen and reservists, Putnam said gun free zones are places where victims have no opportunity to defend themselves.
Proposals to allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry firearms on college and university campuses have failed to gain traction in the Florida Legislature in the past two years.
Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor, said such policies ought to be modified. He said not allowing guardsmen and military veterans to carry firearms in public does not pass a common sense test.
“Think of the number of students who have done time in Afghanistan. Think of the number of students who have had an extraordinary amount of firearm training who are highly qualified highly competent and safe,” said Putnam. “Some of the proposals that have been out there have qualifiers for making sure the proper checks are in place and have the same type of standards that go into a concealed weapons license.”
Two years ago, following a drive-by shooting at a Tennessee military recruiting station, Putnam made it easier for guardsmen to get a permit.
Tuesday he marked what he called a “significant” milestone, the fast-track processing of tens of thousands of concealed weapon permits as a demonstration of Florida’s support for the military and Second Amendment rights.
He also used the occasion to endorse campus carry.
A campus carry bill is expected to emerge in the 2018 legislative session. Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, has sponsored previous bills allowing students to bring guns into the classroom. He said he is considering options to move the bill forward. Putnam said he not only supports campus carry, he also endorses the open carry of firearms.
“There is absolutely a pathway for Florida to get to a form of open carry,” said Putnam. “Continuing to expand (law abiding citizens ) their opportunities to exercise those Second Amendment rights is something I support.”
There are nearly 1.8 million concealed weapons permit holders in Florida, about one out of every 13 residents, according to state records. A coalition of student groups and Second Amendment advocates have pushed to allow the permit holders to bring their guns to classes at state universities and colleges.
They say gun free zones needlessly put people at risk. In committee meetings, they point to an incident three years ago at Strozier Library on the Florida State University campus, about a mile from the state Capitol. There a gunman injured three people in November 2014 before law enforcement killed him
University and college presidents, police chiefs, faculty unions and parents groups oppose loosening gun regulations on school grounds.
“I see the commissioner’s point about the veterans but only a small percentage have the experience he’s talking about,” said Cindy Gerhardt, president of the Florida PTA, a statewide parents and teachers association that opposes guns in schools. “The overwhelming majority do not. The safest environment is a gun free zone where the only people armed is law enforcement.”
Gun control advocates also took aim at Putnam this week for defending an NRA recruitment video. The ad is a call to action to fight a “they.” It references “their media” and “former president” terrorizing law abiding citizens while concluding the “NRA is freedom’s safest place.”
Protestors in Tampa over the weekend protested the ad as an incitement to violence. Putnam criticized their demonstration as a “classic progressive move” to limit “Second Amendment rights.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum quickly posted a statement defending the protestors.
“Once again, Commissioner Adam Putnam has shown us just whose side he is on: the National Rifle Association,” said Gillum. “It’s a shameful day when someone who wants to lead our state stands behind such violent, divisive rhetoric, and against common sense gun protections for Floridians.”
Of the eight declared Republican gubernatorial candidates, Putnam is the only one to hold a statewide office and has raised more than $10 million for the campaign. Others said to be thinking of entering the race include Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.
Reporter James Call can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org