After the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College in southern Oregon, the UCF community is standing firm against allowing guns on campus.
On Oct. 1, 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer opened fire in a classroom at the Oregon campus, killing nine people and injuring seven. The gunman was shot and killed during an exchange of gunfire with officers. The deadly rampage, UCF Police Chief Richard Beary said, makes those at UCF reflect on its own close encounter with an active shooter.
On March 18, 2013, 30-year-old UCF student James Oliver Seevakumaran sought to murder the residents of Tower 1, an on-campus residence hall. Seevakumaran took his own life when his rifle jammed.
“I had this conversation last night [Oct. 1] with one of my children, that even though it was a very stressful time, and it was an emotional time, it could have been incredibly worse,” Beary said. “I thank my lucky stars every single day.”
Investigators later uncovered that Seevakumaran had hidden a rifle, 1,000 rounds of ammunition and four homemade bombs in his dorm for a planned killing spree. Among other red flags found in an After-Action Review, witnesses described the business student as a loner, disconnected from his family and someone who had trouble with women. It was later found that he had been receiving weapons and communicating with a convicted killer through the mail.
Similarly, the Oregon shooter appeared isolated, according to USA Today reports, was part of an online community that glorified mass shootings and kept several weapons at his home. Both men left behind manifesto-esque documents; Seevakumaran’s own timeline of the 2013 plot ended with “give them hell.”
Beary said the UCF community feels for the families of the victims and the survivors of the terrible tragedy in Oregon, who now have to go through the pain of recovery.
Based on data from USA Today, America has experienced at least 25 school shootings, including the Oregon shooting, since 1999, and mourned the deaths of a total of 127 victims. With every shooting, the debate over concealed weapons on campus is revived.
As a firearms instructor since 1987, Beary said he has trained a lot of people and knows what it takes to obtain a concealed-weapons permit in the state of Florida: There’s no written test or demonstration of proficiency.
“When you go to get your driver’s license for the first time, you have to demonstrate driving a car. But in the state of Florida, you can get a concealed weapons permit and never have to fire a bullet,” Beary said. “That’s one of the big reasons why I can’t support guns on campus.”
UCF currently only allows those with proper permits to store their guns inside a locked vehicle on campus. But Senate Bill 68, which was just passed by the Florida Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee on Sept. 16, would allow students with the proper concealed-carry licenses to carry guns on any state college or university campus.
The committee voted 3-2 in favor of the bill, and if it continues to move forward, it would go into effect July 1, 2016. The bill is nearly identical to House Bill 4005, which was struck down twice earlier this year.
Despite the legislation’s recent movement, the State University System of Florida’s Board of Governors stated that, for the second year in a row, the State University System and state universities are united in the belief that Florida should maintain the long-standing authority that enables state universities to prohibit firearms on their campuses.
“Like Florida’s elected leaders, the State University System has a deep commitment to campus security and is engaged in an ongoing conversation about how to best ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff and the environment in which they live, learn and work,” a BOG release states.
UCF Trustees at the most recent board meeting echoed this belief. “Our experience, and we are the ones to know, it’s not a good idea to have concealed weapons on campus.”
The Student Government Association at UCF is also opposed to efforts that would allow concealed carry on campus, said President Cait Zona, “because we believe that it would make our students and university community less safe. We are joined in our opposition by every public university president and Student Government Association in the state.”
At a candlelight vigil held Monday for the Oregon shooting victims, members of College Democrats at UCF also spoke against the bill.
“With an event like the incident that happened, it’s a horrible thing that we all want to make sure doesn’t happen again, especially in our community,” said Nikki Mariutto, organizer and president of College Democrats. “Allowing this bill to pass would just increase our chances of that.”
Mariutto said adding another person into the equation of ensuring safety would make the jobs of UCF police officers much harder.
Community members are also taking a stand against open carry on campus, and protesters have been seen rallying on the streets near the university.
Diane Rambo, the organizer of a “No Open Carry” rally that was held Oct. 2 on the corner of University Boulevard and Alafaya Trail, hoped to spread awareness and honor those who have been touched by the recent events on college campuses.
“Our son graduated from UCF. Our neighbors go to UCF. It is our college, our people,” she said in a previous interview with the Future. “We do not need to create opportunities for terrible events. We want a peaceful campus for all.”
But College Republicans at UCF President Elaine Sarlo said she is very much in support of the bill.
“I don’t believe that constitutional rights should end when you step on campus,” Sarlo said. “If you go through the process and legally own a firearm the way you’re supposed to and get a concealed weapons permit, I don’t see the sense in eliminating that from college campuses.”
Beary, however, said if guns are put in the hands of untrained people, he’s afraid of what the casualty range will be.
“I’m not a believer in guns on campus, particularly when you have your own police agency on campus with incredibly fast response times,” he said. In 2013, UCF officers arrived at the Tower 1 scene in five minutes.
Every UCF officer is trained in combat casualty care, and Beary said it is one of the few police agencies that has issued all personnel with a military-grade kit, which includes bandages, tourniquets and other items that troops have on the battlefield.
“I’m a believer that I can’t stop the shooting, but I can stop the bleeding and save lives,” Beary said. “We respond, neutralize the threat and treat victims immediately. Our approach is pretty unique, and I’m real proud of that.”
In March, UCF PD conducted a regional exercise with agencies across Central Florida to practice handling a case with an active shooter.
“We went through the entire exercise of searching big buildings, locating the bad guys and then evacuating and treating the wounded,” Beary said. “Our officers did the initial treatment of many of the wounded individuals, and then the fire department came in and took over and transported them to the hospital.”
Knowing anything can happen at any moment, Beary highly emphasized the importance of listening to students at UCF.
“They want a safe campus, and I agree with them that extra guns on campus does not equate to more safety,” he said. “ If something doesn’t look right, let us know, let us do our job. That’s what we do 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Let us do what we’re trained to do, and it will be a safer environment for everybody.”
Nada Hassanein is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @nhassanein_ or email her at NadaH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.
Rachel Stuart is a News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @RachSage or email her at RachelS@CentralFloridaFuture.com.