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Debate over gun rights heats up in Carson

Guns could be coming to a campus parking lot near you. Some lawmakers in Carson City say that's a good thing, while others believe schools and universities should remain gun free.

Josh Wilsey, a junior at the University of Nevada, Reno, doesn’t really have a problem with guns on campus.

“I wouldn’t say it would really bother me. I think in Nevada you’re going to have guns everywhere anyway.”

Wilsey even has some personal experience with the risks of storing guns in cars. Years back, his father’s car was actually burglarized, the firearm stolen and later used in a crime. But Wilsey says, if people take precautions, guns in campus parking lots are fine with him.

“I don’t like it.”

That’s Robin Williams, a super senior at UNR.
“If you have a gun at home stocked away, that’s one thing. But, if you have guns in your car, and someone angers you or whatnot….look at all the schools where we have problems with this [gun violence] already.”

And that question—is a school more or less safe with firearms—was a key part of the conversation over Assembly Bill 2. It’s the first piece of legislation on gun rights to receive a hearing this session, but certainly won’t be the last. Introduced by Speaker of the Assembly John Hambrick, the bill would let people store weapons in an occupied or unoccupied, locked car at a school, college, or university as long as the weapon is secure. Currently, that’s a gross misdemeanor.

Carol Howel, head of the Northern Sierra Ladies Gun Club, was at the hearing speaking in favor of the bill. She picks her granddaughter up from school and doesn’t feel safe having to leave her gun at home.

“It doesn’t make sense to prevent me, as a law abiding citizen, from doing whatever I need to do to protect myself and my family.”
Other supporters argue the current law needs to be changed because it’s vague. Someone could accidently break the law by driving near a school with a gun in the car.
But many teachers at the hearing disagreed with the bill, including Dana Galvin, who heads the teachers union in Washoe County.
“The presence of guns in vehicles on public school campuses greatly increases the likelihood of a student accessing a weapon and harming themselves or other students.”
Galvin points to the accidental killing of Lindsay Alba, a student at McQueen High School in Reno during the 90s. Another student shot Alba while they were sitting near the school in a parked a car, which had a gun inside.
Democratic Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz of Las Vegas says she’s also worried about guns being stolen from cars.
“Having been a school teacher for 12 years, I can recount many occasions where our colleagues' cars were stolen from the parking lot.”
At UNR’s campus, however, only 14 car were burglarized in 2013 and 10 last year—low considering thousands of cars are parked on campus everyday.
For the most part, lawmakers on the assembly judiciary committee dismissed concerns about guns falling into the wrong hands and came down on the other side—that guns would make schools safer.
Here’s Republican Assemblyman Jim Wheeler of Gardnerville.
“Isn’t is true that 96.5% of mass shootings in the last five years have taken place in 'gun free zones?' ”
Other GOP lawmakers suggested schools don’t have enough security as is. UNR, for example, has anywhere from 2 to 6 police on duty at a given time. The Washoe County School District has about 35 officers for its 93 schools.
Nevada law does allow for exceptions to no guns on school grounds; that’s if a principal or the president of a college gives someone specific permission.
Those on the left are calling this bill a “gateway to campus carry.” Meanwhile, those on the right, now in the majority, are introducing others bills seeking to strengthen or expand gun rights.
Given that, this debate over Assembly Bill 2 is just the opening salvo.

Will Stone is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.