GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A week after one of his players was found with a loaded AR-15 in his car, first-year Florida coach Dan Mullen said he has a no-weapons policy that nonetheless does allow players to own guns.
"We live in a country where that's one of your rights," Mullen said Thursday during an unusual media day for the Gators, who are grappling with a number of off-field problems. "A lot of people I know have guns in their house to protect their homes and their family. What we do ... is really to educate them on weapons, on having guns. Why would you have it? What's the purpose of having it?
"To me, one of the biggest concerns with a lot of young people today is, if you're going to have a gun, make sure you're properly trained in knowing how to use it. ... If you think you need to have a gun for home security, are you trained in using it? Is it a legal gun? Do you have a license? Are you qualified? What we're not looking for, to me, is gun accidents or issues where a gun could maybe cause a bigger problem than if there wasn't a weapon involved."
Florida receiver Kadarius Toney was found with a loaded AR-15 rifle in the back seat of his car during a traffic stop last week. Gainesville police did not cite Toney because the weapon was not concealed and was not "on or about" him, which would have violated the state's open-carry law.
Toney told officers he needed the weapon for protection from locals because "they be coming after us." Police said the weapon is his.
Several players said Thursday they believed the team policy offered no wiggle room regarding weapons.
"No weapons allowed," receiver Josh Hammond said. "That's been our policy since coach Mullen got here."
Mullen said otherwise.
"It's a no-weapons policy in certain situations of how to be educated to not have (issues)," said Mullen, hired last November and tasked with rebuilding an offense that has been stagnant for nearly a decade. "No weapons, that's easy to remember. If I write out all the different (scenarios) — no weapons in these situations or have a weapon for a hunting situation, if I'm doing this, I store it at this location, I keep it here, I have gun safety rules and knowledge — that's not a quick catch to them to register in their mind. Does that make sense?"
Toney's traffic stop came after tension — and at least one fight — between several football players and some Gainesville residents, including Devante Zachery.
Zachery told police that one player had an assault rifle during a confrontation in late May. It turned out the orange tip of Toney's Airsoft gun had been painted black to resemble a real rifle, according to the police report.
Six players, including top receiver Tyrie Cleveland and freshman quarterback Emory Jones, are facing university disciplinary action following the on-campus altercation.
Cleveland, Jones, Toney, defensive tackle Kyree Campbell, receiver Rick Wells and tight end Kemore Gamble were not charged following a university police investigation. Officers referred the matter to the school's Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution department.
"I feel like everybody is really trying to come together and make smarter decisions off the field," Cleveland said. "I feel like we got the message and we're working really hard toward it."
Toney and Campbell were referred to the board for having Airsoft guns, which have a plastic body and shoot plastic projectiles. Cleveland, Jones, Wells and Gamble were referred for lying to police officers.
"Most discipline issues occur because someone made a poor decision," Mullen said. "It doesn't matter what form it is, whether you're talking about if someone stole something, if you're talking about a decision with a female, if you're talking about a decision involving drugs or alcohol, you're talking about a decision with a weapon, someone made a poor decision along the way. It's a constant education process on making good decisions."
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.