TALLAHASSEE _ A splintered appeals court ruled Tuesday that state universities cannot bar students from storing guns in their cars while on campus.
The ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal, which drew seven separate opinions from the 15-member bench, was 12-3 on the merits for striking down a policy at the University of North Florida barring firearms stowed in cars. The majority opinion drew eight votes, with some of the members drafting separate, concurring opinions, while four other judges joined a different opinion agreeing with the court’s result.
At issue were the rights of Alexandria Lainez, a student at UNF who said she wanted to be able to keep a gun in her car for self-defense while going to and from the school. Florida Carry, Inc., joined Lainez in her lawsuit.
The University of South Florida also bans storing guns in vehicles on campus parking lots. According to a dissent in the case, similar policies are in place at the University of Florida and Florida State University.
Under state law, guns are banned on school and university properties, with an exception carved out for people who secure firearms in their cars. However, the law also says that school districts can waive that exception, meaning they can also bar guns in vehicles on school property.
UNF said its policy was legal because the university should count as a school district, and a Duval County judge agreed. But the 1st DCA reversed that ruling.
“The statute clearly grants school districts the power to waive the exception -- not colleges or universities,” Judge L. Clayton Roberts wrote for the majority. “UNF attempted to exercise this waiver in adopting the operative regulation; however, UNF is not a ‘school district.’ “
In a dissenting opinion, three of the court’s judges ruled that UNF had the right to institute the gun policy under its own constitutional powers, as long as it didn’t try to enforce criminal penalties for violating the rule.
“It is fair to assume that most parents expect state universities to take reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of their daughters and sons while they are in school. ... If the university concludes that the best way to protect students is to prohibit guns on campus, it is not for the Legislature or the courts to interfere with that judgment,” Judge Philip Padovano wrote in his dissent.
Lt. Chris Daniel, University of South Florida Police spokesman, said the university currently doesn’t allow guns anywhere on campus, including stored in cars on campus parking lots. The university will continue to follow that policy until told otherwise, he said.
“We will have to see what legislature will do with this appellate change,” Daniel said. “Until then, we will continue to enforce the statute as it is written.”
Reporter José Patiño Girona contributed to this report.