The Florida appeals court ruling that the University of North Florida was violating state law when it prohibited a woman from storing a gun in her vehicle while she attended class will spill over to cities and counties statewide, an attorney said Wednesday.
And it’s one of many nationwide where anti-gun activists are trying to do at the local level what they can’t do in the statehouse – restrict Second Amendment rights.
“This is a growing movement in a number of cases,” said Jacksonville attorney Eric Friday, who represents Florida Carry Inc. and UNF student Alexandria Lainez in the court fight.
Friday, who called the Lainez decision the biggest of its kind in Florida in 20 years, said the case “reaffirmed that the power to regulate firearms rests solely with the Legislature and not anywhere else.”
Florida Carry Inc. and Alexandria Lainez vs. the University of North Florida centered around Lainez’s ability to store a gun in her vehicle while attending classes at UNF so she would have available for self-defense while traveling to and from campus.
Lainez is a young mother, Friday said, “and she takes seriously her responsibility to protect herself and her child.”
Lainez, who’s 24 and has had a concealed weapons permit for three years, said she takes firearms safety and training pretty seriously, too. A Jacksonville resident with a half-hour one-way commute to school, she said she’s working to get students at other schools interested in gun training, too.
“I think it’s pretty important to be able to protect myself and my son, especially with that long commute to and from school.”
And making that commute armed means storing the gun on UNF property.
UNF regulations prohibit weapons on campus. According to the student handbook printed in 2011 when the case was filed, expressly threatened that violators could be arrested.
“No college or university has the authority” to make such a regulation, Friday said.
Lainez, a member of Florida Carry, sued UNF to change the regulation, but lost at trial to UNF’s argument that it could ban weapons because state law allowed school districts to do so. UNF argued that since it’s a school, it should be considered like a public school district.
In Tuesday’s decision, the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled otherwise.
“From the beginning, the argument was an absurdity in my mind,” Friday said.
But the broader issue, Friday said, involved the powers of local governments – such as counties and cities – to violate gun rights through control ordinances that in effect in one part of the state but not another, putting gun owners at risk of arrest depending on the jurisdiction.
It’s a gun rights battle being fought in other states – where officials in places like libraries and bus companies try to make petty authority grounds for violating constitutional rights.
In Michigan in November, the state Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by a library district in Lansing that claimed it had a right to ban guns in a battle with Michigan Open Carry Inc. National Review’s headline called it a “victory for open carry advocates.”
In Wisconsin, the gun rights group Wisconsin Carry is suing the Madison Metro Transit Authority for trying to ban guns on city buses. That would make for stricter gun law than the ones passed by the state Legislature – which meets in Madison.
In Florida, a state law in 1987 prohibited local governments from passing local gun control ordinances stricter than those passed in Tallahassee, but included no way of enforcing it, Friday said.
That led to local governments – particularly in South Florida – “thumbing their noses at the Legislature,” Friday said.
In 2011, the Legislature passed another law containing a series of threatening local jurisdictions or agencies with fines against the agency heads, removal from office for elected officials and allowing for personal damages up to $100,000 for violations, Friday sad.
When that law passed, most local governments changed their laws to comply before it came into effect Oct 1, Friday said. UNF and some other agencies didn’t.
In an emailed statement Wednesday, UNF Associate Director for Public Relations Joanna Norris wrote that the university is still reviewing its options on whether to appeal the case. Until it makes that decision, she wrote, the university’s policy prohibiting weapons on campus will remain in effect.
Friday said that means the university intends to continue breaking the law.
“In other words, despite the express, well-reasoned opinion of this court, they intend to continue violating students’ rights until they have to comply,” he said.
Why this kind of obstinacy by officials at the local level when they can’t get their anti-Second Amendment way in state capitals?
“In some cases, it’s just a personal belief, or bias against firearms or the right of self-defense,” Friday said. “People in power don’t like it when their power is challenged.”