Discovery of fully automatic AR-15 in UCF student’s car sparks debate over guns on campus

[Background: UFF has consistently and successfully opposed guns on campus. We will keep you updated about legislative developments as the semester progresses]


Michael Williams

Orlando Sentinel

Brian Philip is passionate about gun rights — so much so, he started the UCF Gun Club in 2015.

He said he believes there shouldn’t be laws that restrict gun rights. He argues that fully automatic firearms are no more dangerous than those that are semi automatic and modifications to guns should be legal.

However, when Philip, 25, heard about the 19-year-old UCF student who was arrested Tuesday and accused of having an illegally modified, fully automatic AR-15 in his car on campus, he said his first reaction was, “Wow, this guy’s kinda stupid.”

“It sounds like he just didn’t care about the law,” Philip said. “And that’s where I disagree with him.”

The day after Max Chambers’ arrest, online forums for UCF students and parents were still roiling with discussions about gun rights, university policy and whether authorities had done enough to curtail the activities of a young man described by police as a wayward enthusiast — but viewed by others as a threat.

Philip discovered that Chambers was a member on the UCF Gun Club’s Facebook page. He felt torn about whether he should keep Chambers in the group. Philip said he doesn’t want the group to be affiliated with someone charged with a crime, but also disagrees with the law Chambers is accused of violating.

UCF student arrested, had fully automatic AR-15 in vehicle at campus dorm, police say

“I just don’t believe there should be any infringement on the 2nd Amendment,” he said.

Philip delegated the decision of whether to keep Chambers to the page’s 1,200 members by posting a poll in the group. Within three hours, 60 members said Chambers should be kicked out of the group, while 29 said he should stay.

“All gun laws are an infringement,” one comment read.

“Change the laws, but [don’t] be a martyr,” said another member.

“I don’t know his true motives and that’s what worries me,” Philip said. “Was there anything planted in his mind that was really bad? Police say no, but you never know.”

UCFPD Chief Carl Metzger said Chambers made no threats to the school before he was arrested Tuesday, when officers acting on an anonymous complaint searched his car at The Towers at Knights Plaza and found an AR-15 modified to shoot fully-automatic.

Police said Chambers also had manufactured three drop-in auto sears, which can convert a firearm to shoot multiple bullets with a single trigger pull. Chambers told police he made the devices in December and had tested one earlier this month .

A UCF police spokeswoman declined to say how detectives believe he made the devices, citing an ongoing investigation. He told police he knew the devices were against the law, but said he doesn’t like laws, according to his arrest report.

Chambers broke no laws by having the gun in his car; state law and university policy allows students to store firearms in their vehicles as long as they’re not readily accessible.

However, some parents of UCF students said the law falls short by creating a loophole for students to keep guns on campus.

“My son could get written up if he has a candle in his room, but [Chambers] can have a gun in his car,” said Dawn Silverman, the mother of a UCF freshman. “It just seems really backwards to me and I don’t understand the rationale behind that.”

Silverman’s son, Cameron, lives in the same complex as Chambers, though not the same building. She said this is the second time in less than a year her children have been affected by a gun scare on campus. Her daughter attends Palm Beach Central High School, where a shooting at a football game left two people injured in August.

Marty Perdeck, the father of a UCF sophomore, said Chambers’ statement that he does not like laws was the “brightest red flag I’ve seen.”

“Anyone with [an AR-15] is either extremely paranoid about their personal security, they think it’s fun to shoot — and maybe it is — or they’re looking to inflict harm on people they perceive to be trying to harm them,” he said.

Perdeck’s concerns prompted him to write an email to Metzger and UCF President Dale Whittaker, demanding a full investigation into Chambers.

Chambers’ arrest wasn’t the first interaction he had with UCF police. Acting on another anonymous tip, officers last year found a part of a rifle in his on-campus dorm. The part was not illegal, but campus policy prohibits the storage of weapons in dorms.

Police spokeswoman Courtney Gilmartin said officers explained state law and university policies to Chambers and told the Office of Student Conduct about the call. Federal privacy law prohibits the university from revealing whether Chambers faced any discipline.

After the Tuesday arrest, Gilmartin said police filed a petition to have Chambers’ gun rights restricted under the “red-flag” law passed shortly after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last February.

Chambers, a mechanical engineering student, is prohibited from returning to the campus pending the outcome of a student-conduct proceeding. If he needs to come to the campus for any reason, he will be escorted by a police officer, Gilmartin said.

He faces two felony charges: possession of a machine gun and a violation of Florida’s recently-enacted ban on bump-fire stocks, which also prohibits the possession of any device which alters the firing rate of a gun to replicate automatic weapon fire.

Michael Williams can be reached at miwilliams@orlandosentinel.com, 407-420-5022 or @michaeldamianw.