Florida legislation to allow guns on college campuses is back. Will it pass this year?

Opponents are gearing up for a fight on one of the few issues where Florida’s gun laws are stricter than in many other states.

“We definitely have a battle on our hands when it comes to campus carry this year,” said Andy Pelosi, executive director of the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus.

Sabatini, who filed the bill last week along with state Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, said, “I find it offensive that because of political rhetoric, I’m not allowed to defend myself just because I’m on a college campus.”

The bill would allow people with concealed weapons permits, who must be 21 and demonstrate competency with a firearm, to carry guns on any of Florida’s college campuses, currently specifically listed as one of the state’s gun-free zones.

Such zones, which Florida maintains in courthouses, polling places, government meetings and other places besides universities, “are irrational,” Sabatini said, though his bill only addresses college campuses.

“There’s no reason why a 21-year-old with a concealed carry permit, [part] of one of the most law-abiding demographic in the state of Florida, shouldn’t be allowed to defend themselves,” he said.

Twelve states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Texas and Tennessee, allow guns on campuses in some capacity. Sabatini said proximity to guns has not translated into more gun violence on campuses in those states.

“States are laboratories of democracy,” he said. “And in those 12 states, none of the things university presidents said would happen [actually] happened.”

Every time such a bill is proposed, university leaders have been some of the most vociferous opponents to campus carry. Thrasher, who helped kill a similar bill in 2011 while in the state Senate, also came out strongly against another attempt in 2017 by state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota. Thrasher could not be reached for comment.

Stuebe ultimately decided not to introduce a campus carry bill in the Senate, where it would have faced roadblocks from state Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami and Sen. René García, R-Hialeah.

The next session in 2018 was dominated by the reaction to the Parkland shooting in February, which led to Gov. Rick Scott and Republicans in the Legislature to instead add more restrictions to gun purchases, such as raising the minimum age from 18 to 21. Hill also has introduced a bill to repeal those parts of the law.

Bill filed to repeal gun control measures adopted after Parkland massacre

This year, Senate Judiciary Chair David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said any campus carry bill filed in the Senate to pair with Sabatini’s would be “worth looking at, and debating and discussing.”

He said the new gun age requirement of 21 could deter some of the fears that blocked legislation in the past.

“Sometimes I think when we talk about campus carry, there are administrators and employees and professors who are not subject to the concerns people have about the sometimes recklessness of youth,” Simmons said.

He added that almost 2 million Florida residents have concealed carry permits, including about 570,000 women.

However, the union United Faculty of Florida, which represents about 18,000 faculty members and professionals at Florida campuses, still strongly opposes the measure.

Paul Rooney, assistant vice president for operations at Valencia College and a former Orlando police chief, said the college has “deep concerns” about campus carry.

“The training required to receive a concealed-carry permit does not prepare a person to safely intervene in a critical incident on a crowded campus,” Rooney said. “This is a matter for properly trained law enforcement officers, which we hope will be clear to the committees hearing the bill.”

The bill also likelywill face united opposition among Democrats. State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, compared the bill with the controversial law passed last year allowing armed teachers in K-12 schools.

“Arming teachers is not the solution to the epidemic of gun violence,” Smith said. “Not in K-12, not in our state colleges, not at our state universities. Adding more guns to any campus environment only makes people less safe.”

slemongello@orlandosentinel.com, 407-418-5920, @stevelemongello,