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GOP Pushes For Campus Carry, Despite University Opposition

School campuses have become the latest testing ground for the debate over gun rights in Nevada. A bill that would allow those with concealed weapons permits to bring their guns on campus drew crowds to Carson City this week.

To hear both sides tell it, guns are either the panacea for some of the worst afflictions on campus—sexual assault and school shootings among them—or a toxic solution in search of a problem. 

State law  prohibits anyone, including concealed carry permit holders, from bringing guns on school property without approval. For former University of Nevada Student Amanda Collins, that rule was the difference between being raped brutally by James Biela and getting away.

“All I wanted was the chance to effectively defend myself. The choice to participate in one's self-defense should be left to the individual. That choice should not be mandated by the government. Laws that prohibit campus carry turn women like me into victims.”

Collins did have a concealed carry permit at the time of her attack and was a key voice in trying to get this legislation passed last session. But now with Republicans in control of Carson City, the bill has overwhelming support with more than 20 sponsors.

At the helm is Assemblywoman Michelle Fiore, a Republican from Clark County, who espouses her own brand of pro-Second Amendment-Women’s Rights philosophy. At the hearing, though, she took a decidedly less visible approach instead, calling upon John Lott, an academic and frequent contributor to Fox News:

“People think by simply banning guns from an area that will make it safer. The problem is that you have to ask yourself who obeys the law? While we would like to believe that, if we ban guns from an area, that's going to make it safer. Unfortunately, the people who obey that are the good, law-abiding people, not the people intending to do the attack."

Lott says his data show those with concealed carry permits, even college-aged people, are far less likely to commit a crime than the general population. Moreover, no students in the states that allow guns on campus have committed a crime while there; however, researchers at Johns Hopkins and the National Research Council have criticized Lott’s work and his theory that more guns lead to less crime.

More than 20 other states currently leave it up to the individual institution whether or not to permit guns--that’s the law in Nevada. The consensus among students and faculty in the state appears to be they want it to stay that way, as Democratic Assemblyman Nelson Araujo made clear.

"There is widespread opposition to forcing colleges to allow guns on campus: 95% of college presidents oppose guns on campus; 94% of faculty oppose guns on campus; 79% of students say they would not feel safe."

Indeed, the presidents of UNR and Truckee Meadows Community College have both come out against the proposal, as well as the Associated Students of the University of Nevada.

Former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, now acting as executive vice chancellor for the Nevada System of Higher Education, was the lead voice opposing this bill on a number of grounds—security complications, the chilling effect it could have on academic discourse, the intrusion of the legislature onto university matters and the risks already posed by alcohol and college partying.

“Gun rights advocates have co-opted this important discussion about preventing violence to women and children and redefined it to suit their agenda," Masto said. "AB148 is a perfect example of how those tone deaf to the issue of preventing violence against women and children continue to distort the policy conversation.”

Masto also fired back at claims that guns would reduce sexual assault, pointing out the vast majority of those incidents happen off-campus and between two people who know each other.

But Republican Assemblyman Ira Hansen of Sparks says, despite all the hypotheticals coming from opponents, no one can actually point to a situation in which campus carry has led to violence. 

“I'm curious out of all the other states doing this right now, including our sister state of Utah. Do you have any evidence to show that there's an increase, or even a single instance of violence...something that actually disturbed the sanctuary aspects of a Utah campus?”

Other GOP lawmakers say campus carry could supplement current safety measures, which some suggested could be lacking. For example, there are more than ten thousand people at UNR most days and only about 2 to 6 officers on duty at a given time.

Despite this, recent numbers show very few students are actually interested in bringing a gun to class. Over the last two years, about 20 people in Nevada asked to bring a weapon on campus, not all were guns, and only 5 of those requests were approved.

Nadege Barthelmy is a veteran who now heads the UNLV black student organization. She says not only will this impact colleges, but all schools in the state, including K -12.

“Uneducated and untrained civilians, motivated by their perceived fear, will be cocked and loaded to pump lead into any students."

For the most part, this debate unraveled along party lines. That will likely remain the tone going forward. And what promised to be the legislative session focused on education could very well become the partisan shootout many expected. 

Will Stone is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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