Campus targeted

Multiple bills emerge as the Nevada Legislature considers allowing guns on campus

photoillustration/hayley doshay

The morning of March 5 found the hearing room and two overflow rooms on the third floor of the capitol building in Carson City packed with people awaiting the Assembly Judiciary Committee's first hearing on Assembly Bill 148. The controversial measure introduced by Assemblymember Michele Fiore (R-Las Vegas) would allow “concealed carry” permit holders to bring their firearms with them to Nevada campuses.

There was some clapping as well as some jeers from the crowd as the first three people testified on Assembly Bill 148, but all three rooms fell silent when the fourth witness, Amanda Collins, was called on to speak via video conference. Most in attendance stared straight ahead. Some found places on the floor to give a thorough visual inspection as Collins began recounting what happened to her on the evening of Monday, Oct. 22, 2007, as she walked with her fellow classmates back to the Brian J. Whalen parking garage on the University of Nevada, Reno campus.

“As I approached the parking garage, I was the only one who had parked on the ground floor,” Collins said, taking a long pause before continuing. “And seeing no visible threat between myself and my vehicle, I wished everyone a good week and broke off from the group. Approaching my vehicle at an angle, what I didn’t see was a man hunched down by the wheel well of a truck next to a sedan. As he passed me, he grabbed me, forced me to the cold, hard asphalt, placed a pistol to my temple, clicked off the safety, told me not to say anything, and then he began to brutally rape me.”

Collins, who has spoken in favor of guns on campus many times both in Nevada and in other states, explained that as she was being raped, she could see university police cruisers parked only a few hundred feet away but knew that the university’s police office was closed for the evening.

 “So, while my body was being ripped apart, I knew no one was coming to help me,” Collins said.

This session marks the third time “campus carry” legislation has been considered by the Nevada Legislature and the third time Collins has told state legislators that she believes campus carry is really a matter of allowing law-abiding citizens to choose their means of self-defense. 

“Unfortunately,” Collins said, “legislators and university officials opposed to campus carry are seemingly more intimidated by law abiding citizens like me—sitting in class with my legal, permitted firearm—than they are of the rapist waiting for me in the parking garage.”

Debate in the crosshairs

After Collins, the committee listened to several hours of testimony from both proponents and opponents of A.B. 148, much of it closely echoing similar sentiments expressed during past sessions.

Opponents of the measure include the leaders of the Nevada System of Higher Education [NSHE] and UNR’s student-government senate. A resolution delivered to the committee by president-elect Caden Fabbi stated the student government’s belief that concealed weapons on campus would detract from the university’s designation as a place for the sharing of diverse ideas.

A “Legislator Fact Sheet” submitted by NSHE conveyed a similar objection:

Guns on campuses would have a chilling effect on academic freedom, robust classroom discussions and already difficult faculty/student discussions on failing grades.

Opponents of the bill voiced a multitude of other concerns, including fears that concealed weapons on campus could increase the risk of suicides, deter academics from teaching at Nevada institutions, and create volatile situations during campus events where alcohol is served.

Adam Garcia—veteran police officer and chief of police services at UNR—agrees, calling the bill a Pandora’s Box. According to Garcia, most of the seven states where campus carry is legal have provisions restricting firearms in places like dormitories and public entertainment venues.

“A.B. 148 doesn’t do that,” Garcia says. “It’s just basically a blank check to say, ’Here, if you have a CCW, you can carry it on a campus of NSHE.’ So, we would really be the minority of all these states, just kind of an extreme outlier if A.B. 148 passes.”

Opponents of A.B. 148 were not the only ones to present a long list of reasons for their position during the March 5 hearing. In addition to their belief that concealed weapons can reduce the number of on-campus sexual assaults, proponents expressed concern over the ratio of police to civilians on university campuses. At UNR, the number of officers on duty varies, and may, at times, be as low as two officers. Some supporters of campus carry also suggested that individuals with CCWs might be able to intervene in the event of a mass shooting—or “active shooter”—situation, an idea that opponents have railed against.

Garcia points to the fact that CCW permit holders go through eight hours of training, while police officers undergo 20 weeks of preliminary training followed by regular training and twice-a-year qualification testing on a shooting range thereafter.

“This idea that somebody with minimal training could successfully thwart an attack by an armed assailant, that’s flawed,” Garcia says. “It’s more likely that that person would pose an additional danger to themselves or to other students, or faculty, or staff.” 

Campus-carry advocate Amanda Collins was raped in UNR’s Brian J. Whalen Parking Complex.

Christopher Lively, a proponent of A.B. 148, is the director for the Nevada branch of Students for Concealed Carry, a national organization comprised of college students, faculty and staff who support campus carry. The 35-year-old Army veteran is taking a short break from his studies in computer engineering at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He agrees with Garcia’s estimation of an average CCW holder’s preparedness to engage an assailant bent on mass murder.

“They’re not expected to run in and save the day,” Lively says. “Their permit, their training, is all about stopping an imminent threat to themselves. So if there’s an active shooter on a campus—you can hear the gunshots, but you’re not directly threatened—your training would tell you, ’Move away as quickly as possible from the threat. Flee, hide, run, do whatever you have to do not to actually put yourself in a position to try to be a hero.’”

Safety on

There’s another thing upon which Garcia and Lively are in agreement. Both men believe campuses are comparatively safe places.

“One thing that makes us different and very unique from the cities that surround us—the communities both at UNR and UNLV—is we’re an oasis of safety,” Garcia says. “Compare the numbers of crime on this campus with the communities immediately surrounding us. Our numbers don’t even compare.”

According to Lively, this disparity in crime rates helps make the case for campus carry.

“We understand that campuses are low in crime,” he says. “However, that doesn’t change the fact that we still have to get to and from campus through places that have much higher crime rates.”

The unintended consequence of gun-free campuses, Lively says, is that people are forced to travel to and from school and go about other daily business unarmed, leaving them defenseless to prevent violent crimes against themselves, which—when they occur off campus—are not reflected in schools’ crime statistics.

NSHE executive vice chancellor and likely U.S. senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto doesn’t believe this argument holds up because, she says, university police work in conjunction with city and county law enforcement across jurisdictional boundaries.

“There’s no false wall that’s put up around the perimeters,” Cortez Masto says.

Cortez Masto adds that concealed carry permit holders may find themselves in this type of situation whether they’re going to a campus where weapons are prohibited or heading to an airport for travel. She points to a current policy that allows students to petition the president of their institution for permission to carry concealed weapons on campus as a means of answering campus-carry proponents’ concerns.

“There is nothing wrong with the current law,” Cortez Masto says. “Right now, the discretion is with the Board of Regents and the presidents to make this determination with respect to whether somebody can carry a concealed weapon on campus. It’s not a complete prohibition.”

NSHE’s policy regarding the possession of weapons was added to the Board of Regents’ Handbook in 2012 to create a procedure for institutions’ presidents to follow when reviewing requests for concealed-carry on campus.

UNR president Marc Johnson explains that under the current policy, concealed-carry requests are turned over to the university’s police department. Before reporting back with a recommendation, the police may review the applicant’s permit to carry a concealed weapon, run a background check on the person, and interview him or her to learn more about the rationale for the request.

“It protects the individual who has a license to carry concealed weapons, that if there really is a specific threat, then we can and do allow for individuals to carry concealed weapons, but if they don’t have a particular threat, then we protect the campus for the learning environment that we have here so that it’s not just a lot of people carrying guns for no particular reason,” Johnson says.

But A.B. 148 proponents say the petition process doesn’t work. Lively has applied twice, once at College of Southern Nevada and once at UNLV, and was denied both times. In accordance with NSHE’s policy, a written explanation of the reasons for a decision must be issued to an applicant. Lively says when he received notice of UNLV’s decision from the university’s chief of police, he found he’d been denied on the grounds that he was not a police officer and therefore not authorized to carry.

At UNR, a total of 10 requests were submitted by people seeking permission to bring weapons to campus during 2013 and 2014. In 2013, all requests were made by CCW permit holders who wanted to bring their firearms on a regular basis. All five requests were denied. Of the five requests made in 2014, four were for weapons to be brought to campus for a scholastic purpose. These four were approved. The other request, made by a CCW permit holder, was denied.

Dueling agendas

Several changes have been made to A.B. 148 in the weeks since its first hearing. The bill, which initially contained provisions to allow concealed carry at K-12 schools and daycares, was amended to remove these elements prior to approval by the Assembly Judiciary Committee on March 18.  

Fiore says that these provisions of the bill were dropped as a show of good faith. The bill, she says, will pass this session, and dropping the K-12 and daycare provisions will lessen opposition.

Assembly-member Michele Fiore (R-Las Vegas) discusses gun legislation.

Vicki Kawelmacher, another supporter of A.B. 148, was disappointed to learn that the provisions had been dropped. Kawelmacher is the CEO of Women’s Shooting Academy in Reno, where she has been teaching CCW certification courses and other personal and gun safety courses since 2008. Parents and teachers, she says, should be allowed to be trained, educated and armed to protect themselves and their children rather than have to await police response in an emergency situation.

“Whether it’s a college campus, or a middle school, or a high school, or an elementary school—a campus is a campus is a campus,” Kawelmacher says.

But Kawelmacher says, despite her disappointment, she still considers A.B. 148 a win for Second Amendment rights.

While concealed carry in the pre- and grade schools is off the table, there are new provisions of A.B. 148 that would allow the storage of firearms in vehicles—either occupied or locked—at K-12 schools and daycares. These provisions were originally proposed in Assembly Bill 2 by Assembly Speaker John Hambrick (R-Las Vegas). They were added to A.B. 148 by amendments made during the March 18 Assembly Judiciary Committee work session and would apply to NSHE property as well.

As a result of the amendments, A.B. 148 now looks a bit more like the original Nevada campus-carry measure introduced in 2011 by former senator John Lee (D-North Las Vegas) and reintroduced by Fiore in 2013. Surprisingly, there is also a new campus-carry bill. On March 16, Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) introduced Senate Bill 350. The measure would allow concealed carry on NSHE campuses, and contains Lee’s original prohibition on firearms at venues with a capacity of 1,000 or more, including stadiums and athletic fields.

A.B. 148 never contained the original prohibition on concealed carry at large campus venues, and no longer contains a provision authorizing county sheriffs’ offices to provide information about instructors and organizations that offer firearm safety courses with a focus educational environments. But the biggest difference between the old campus-carry measures and A.B. 148 is a provision that permits concealed carry in public parts of Nevada’s airports.

And it’s this part of the bill that’s particularly worrisome to Assemblymember Elliot Anderson (D-Las Vegas), who is concerned that concealed carry in Nevada’s airports might have a detrimental effect on the state’s tourism economy. Culturally diverse international visitors, Anderson says, often don’t like the U.S. gun culture.

Anderson, a former marine and current student of UNLV’s William S. Boyd School of Law, adds that the same concern for people’s comfort level with firearms should be taken into account when considering concealed carry on campuses as well.

“In a nutshell, it’s about recognizing that we’re in a community, and when it comes to education and when it comes to areas where we’re trying to have an inclusive environment and accept different viewpoints, we have to be careful,” Anderson says.

On target?

Several state legislatures around the country are currently considering campus carry bills, including Texas, Florida and Montana. A bill in Arkansas would allow higher education faculty and staff to carry concealed weapons. Across the board, the major talking points on both sides of the issue closely mirror the familiar ones presented for the third time now in Nevada.

Fiore has expressed confidence in A.B. 148’s odds of passing this time around, and says opponents of campus carry lack data and statistics to support their position.

“They have zero points, in my opinion, I’ve got to tell you,” Fiore says. “I heard the rhetoric in 2011 when John Lee presented it. I heard it in 2013 when I presented John Lee’s exact bill. And I heard the same rhetoric, and it was so refreshing to me to hear that they have no new news. It’s all, ’What if something bad happens?’ And it’s just a joke. I mean, their opposition is just a joke.”

Cortez Masto disagrees, pointing to information she presented during the March 5 hearing, including two government surveys.

The first, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, shows a high rate of alcohol consumption by college students between the ages of 18 and 22 as well as 97,000 reported incidents of students becoming victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape in 2013.

The second, from the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, gives data on sexual assault and rape between 1995 and 2013 and finds that nonstudents between the ages of 18 and 24 are 1.2 times more likely (7.6 per 1,000) to be victimized than those of the same age group who are enrolled in college (6.1 per 1,000). This survey also indicates that roughly 70 percent of sexual assault cases occur at the victim’s home or the home of someone the victim knows.

Cortez Masto says the data from these surveys suggests the combination of alcohol and firearms on campus has the potential to be very dangerous and that the rate of sexual assault on campuses is too low to justify concealed carry as a means of on-campus sexual assault prevention.

She adds that she believes Fiore is ignoring the voices of students, faculty and staff who oppose the measure.

“Those are the statistics,” Cortez Masto says. “That’s the data right there. They’re the individuals that are going to be there every single day, and they’re the ones that we should be listening to with respect to their concerns.”

“At the end of the day, it’s a solution in search of a problem,” she says. “There are no statistics to support the need for it.”

If passed and signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, the bill would go into effect on July 1.