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Monday, June 27, 2022

Local community members came together Wednesday night at a forum to discuss gun violence and bills aiming to change state gun laws.

As national attention turns to gun violence and gun rights bills move through the state legislature, Meshon Rawls, a UF legal skills professor and director of Gator TeamChild Juvenile Law Clinic, said the discussion was important.

About 50 people — including community leaders such as Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell and an audience of mostly middle and high school students — convened at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Multipurpose Center as part of MLK Week.

Senate Bill 68 was introduced on Tuesday. If approved by the legislature, it would allow for concealed and open carry on college campuses. Another bill in the legislature aims to amend the “Stand Your Ground” law. The campus carry bill has stirred controversy on college campuses, and the panel was mostly unanimous in its opposition.

Darnell said open carry would restrict gun rights, rather than expand them, because businesses could possibly block open-carry holders from entering their stores. Additionally, she said it would likely lead to an increase in calls to law enforcement from frightened citizens.

“My belief is that the current concealed carry law in Florida has worked very well,” she said. “There has been very few issues with it.”

Darnell said she and other sheriffs are worried about the bill’s wording, which makes no mention of holsters or firearm training.

She also expressed concern over the average permit holder not being trained to properly react to high stress in an active shooter situation.

Nonetheless, Darnell said her department would follow and enforce the bill if approved to become law.

Attorney Daryl Parks stressed the importance of valuing life and getting an education.

“Before you deal with gun violence, understand your life has value,” he said, addressing the audience.

“We’re here because of you guys,” Parks continued.

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While the students were restless at times, Gainesville High School student Anthony Ransom had no doubt about the forum’s significance.

“A lot of them are probably not paying attention, but they’ll never forget this,” he said.

Contact Hunter Williamson at hwilliamson@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @hunterewilliam

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