Last week, the Nevada Firearms Coalition set off a firestorm on Facebook when it posted a question, “How many know that Campus Carry is already legal in Nevada?” Stimulating discussion was the goal, and it certainly did. Of course, only with written permission of campus authorities, may a concealed firearm permittee carry on campus. A person seeking to carry concealed on campus sends a written request to the campus president for consideration.
What if you asked for permission and were told not even to bother? That is the way that Nevada treats armed citizens who apply for permission. Requests are regularly denied, including one for an off-duty corrections officer. Several persons have reported that even asking “How do I apply?” is me with “Don’t bother, they don’t approve anybody.” The right to effective, preemptive self-defense on college and university campuses has been denied to Nevadans.
State law provides for the Nevada System of Higher Education (Board of Trustees) to create a policy for all public colleges and universities to guide the individual campus presidents in granting permission. The policy cites part of the landmark Supreme Court case, DC v. Heller, to justify its ban, calling colleges and universities, “sensitive” spaces. “The statutory prohibition of weapons, including firearms on campus, is longstanding,” the policy reads.
The “longstanding” prohibition of NRS 202.265 dates from 1989’s AB 346. As drafted, the law originally applied only to high schools as there was a problem with students, usually involved in gangs or drugs, who brought weapons to school. Colleges and universities were added after the bill became public. Before that, only student codes of conduct prohibited weapons without permission, originating after concerns about student riots.
Not What You Think
Today’s monolithic denial policy was not the intention of the legislators who crafted the first ban on guns in schools. In 1989, open carry was uncommon, concealed carry permits were “may issue” with need, and many Americans scoffed at the idea of carrying a gun for protection. The campus carry ban is a product of its time and an anachronism when most Americans accept concealed carry as a right. School shootings were tragic crimes and a far-fetched possibility, not “an epidemic” and reasonable fear as they are now.
1989’s AB 346 was sponsored by Assemblyman Gaston, apparently at the behest of Clark County District Attorney Ken Hicks and the Clark County School District. Schools there were seeing increasing problems with crime, escalating to possession of firearms on campus. Expulsion was not enough of a penalty to deter students from bringing guns on campus. “Students feel that guns enhance their image...The kids are laughing up their sleeves at the system,” DA Hicks said.
The original draft only referred to "a private or public school" and exempted those with "written permission from the principal of the school." Law enforcement suggested a ‘gun free school-zone’ perimeter around the school, but this was apparently never acted upon due to constitutional concerns.
Clark County School District (CCSD) officials requested a violation be a felony to discourage non-students, explaining that at the time, an openly carried weapon (by an adult) would be perfectly legal and the threat of expulsion was not a deterrent. From the context of the hearing, it appears that self-defense carry in today's context was not the issue, but criminals or gang members close in age to the students may have been the concern. "Right now a kid can come on the school campus and have his Uzi on the seat of his car and there is nothing we can do about it," said Mr. Koot of the DA's office. Lost to history is whether or not they indeed wanted to ban innocent open carry or saw open carry as a loophole for a miscreant to exploit.
No concern for legal weapons in vehicles, such as a hunter with a rifle in his back window, was shown, legislators suggesting instead that the hunter park off campus and walk his child in. It was felt by a CCSD official that law enforcement would be allowed discretion to ignore such technical violations if they meant no harm. Assemblyman Carpenter seemed to be the lone voice of caution to avoid penalties for law-abiding citizens.
After colleges and universities were added to the ban, Senator Wagner objected that a university student with a legal firearm or other weapon in their parked vehicle would be impacted by the law. Assemblyman Gaston reply essentially indicated he did not care that the university student would be negatively impacted.
However: "Mr. Gaston remarked the University System was not part of this [the bill] initially as the original intent was directed at high schools, but [the University System] requested to be included." The University System is now known as the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE).
In response, Henry Etchemendy, representing the Nevada Association of School Boards, stated that student rights were protected because there was "sufficient discretionary authority...by the ability to obtain written permission from a Principal to deviate from general practice." Assemblyman Gaston told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the bill would exempt "anyone who legitimately has a reasonto bring a dangerous weapon [on school grounds] after having received permission [emphasis added]."
So, not only do we see that colleges and universities were secondary to the original purpose of the bill, but discretion, both for police and the educational authorities, was to be exercised. Sadly, they seldom are. Time has shown that discretion without guidance has proved to be effectively a denial of the right to self-defense. For all intents and purposes, only the most extreme or exceptional circumstances (such as an off-duty police officer speaking on campus) justify granting permission for concealed carry.
In 2011, only one student at UNR had permission to carry and none at UNLV. Campus carry advocate Amanda Collins had to carry only under the condition of absolute secrecy and only after she was victimized. During the hearings for SB 231 in 2011, she told the Senate Judiciary Committee:
I question why it takes somebody being assaulted before being allowed to defend oneself. Also, what makes me special? Why do only I get to defend myself? Am I granted permission because I was assaulted at gunpoint in a gun-free zone?
In 2011, UNR had received about a dozen requests and approved one. During the 2015 campus carry legislation hearings, further details came out. Catherine Cortez Masto, former Nevada Attorney General and then Executive Vice Chancellor of NSHE said:
With respect to the CCWs on our college campuses, the statistics that I have available show that there were nine requests at UNR last year. Four of them were nongun related because they were for weapons in general. Five of them were for guns. At UNLV, there were three requests last year. At Truckee Meadows Community College, there were six requests. Western Nevada College had one request. I am sure you would like to know how many were denied or approved. Of the nine at UNR, five were denied, and four were approved.
Assemblywoman Michelle Fiore addressed the details of the actual approvals:
There were 13 concealed weapons permit applications. One was approved, and one was approved for a one-day pass. Therefore, we have one concealed weapons permit to carry on campus which was approved throughout the whole state of Nevada. In her testimony, Mrs. Cortez Masto said there were four approved. As for the other three, I want you to understand that it was not a concealed weapon that was approved. If I was doing a presentation on firearms on one of the NSHE campuses and I wanted to bring in my acrylic AK-47 lamp, which is plastic and not a firearm, I would have to get permission to go on campus with it. Just like this necklace of a firearm that I always wear, they would find it offensive because it is a firearm. These are things that we would have to get permission for. Therefore, the three other permissions granted were for things like that.
In 2008, President Lucey of Western Nevada College reported she only gave permission to the Loomis driver who serviced the ATM.
NSHE’s Policy Terms
Presidents have discretionary authority, subject to the conditions set by the Board of Trustees. The duty of the president is to:
An NSHE institution President who receives a written request from an individual to carry a concealed weapon on the campus must consider, investigate, and evaluate each request on a case by case basis, giving individual consideration to each specific request, and must make a determination on each request according to a need standard.
Permits are may issue and require a specific “need” under the most stringent interpretation of the word. Determining factors are:
Amanda Collins would not have qualified for a permit prior to her being attacked as the danger of rape was a risk general to any woman, rather than a certain risk to Amanda. Indeed, a cynical and unsympathetic president could even deny a future victim permission to carry if the suspect was apprehended, justifying it as the “specific risk of attack” abated with the attacker’s incarceration. Thankfully, no one here is that cold-hearted.
NSHE’s Policy Justification
One would think that a policy would outline the specific safety concerns and risks of armed young students that opponents to campus carry always bring up. Instead, NSHE prefaces its regulations not with safety concerns, but with concern for sensibilities.
NSHE is committed to providing an orderly academic environment for learning that promotes the acquisition of knowledge and advances the free exchange of ideas. The preservation of this educational environment is an important objective for the NSHE and its institutions...The prohibition contributes to the welcoming and open nature of the NSHE institutions and promotes an atmosphere conducive to learning.
Feelings and perceptions trump safety. The only “need” to ban firearms is to avoid offending anti-gun students, faculty, and staff. Time and time again, the criminality and risk from concealed carriers, even college-age students, have been debunked. At this time, there is no justification whatsoever for banning concealed carry on campus and no legitimate defense for maintaining a ban. The facts have spoken; only those who stand recalcitrant to reason choose to deny well established facts and positive experiences from other states.
Ultimately, much of the opposition is afraid of firearms. Some don’t understand firearms, and having no experience with them, root their opposition in a fear of what is unknown to them. Others lack the ability to imagine all but the worst cases, letting their emotion of what could go wrong obliterate the evidence that campus carry is no more dangerous than off-campus. And then there are political reasons which bear no need for commentary.
The sea change in attitudes towards weapons in the hands of individuals changed in less than ten years after Nevada’s school gun ban was imposed. Shall-issue concealed carry passed in 1995. Despite the increasing frequency of high-profile mass shootings, the general trend in the United States has been to remove obstacles to armed citizens.
Surely Nevada legislators were moved by the 1999 Columbine killings to enact further legislation. On the contrary. "We've hardly discussed it. You can pass any many bills as you like, but the bad people will still find a way to get a gun," said Senator Dean Rhoads of Tuscarora. Democratic Assemblyman Bernie Anderson said "Our experience is that people who have firearms are responsible users."
Non-gun ban related bills were the 70th Legislature's preferred way to address the problems with violence in schools. "Here, most folks believe the concealed-weapons issue has no relevance. But we want to deal with [violence] in other ways,” said a Democrat from Henderson.
The historical record is clear; legal guns on college and university campuses have never been a problem. Legislators did not originally seek to deny concealed carriers the ability to carry on campus, but rather allowed it to happen as carrying a handgun legally was uncommon. Authorities were to use their discretion to the benefit of gun owners and not to deny practically every request.
Armed citizens and members of the educational community must be involved in the elections and actions of the Board of Regents. Regents who are friendly to gun owners can help create quality policies without resorting to the difficulties of the legislative process. Continue reaching out to students, teachers, and professors about the Second Amendment and the gun culture.
2017 is not 1989. Handguns and self-defense carry are popular in America and once again they are recognized by the majority as not only a right, but sometimes as a necessity. The old conventions about who carries are gun and the risk of accident vs. probability of a defensive gun use have changed. Old policies created under a paradigm that no longer exists and enforced today for political reasons need to be eradicated or altered to reflect today’s reality.
NSHE Handbook, Title 4, Section 31 Possession of Weapons on NSHE Property
NRS 202.265 and NRS 396.110
AB 346 (1989) Legislative History
SB 231 (2011)
Minutes of the Meeting of the Committee on Judiciary. March 5, 2015.
Minutes of the NSHE Board of Regents. Feb. 7, 2008
Gillis, Kyle. "NLV peace officer challenges campus weapons policy." Nevada Journal. May 29, 2012.
Frank, George. “code of conduct asked for campus.” Reno Evening Gazette. May 27, 1970. p. 1
AP. "Panel considers bill to ban guns from campuses." Reno Gazette-Journal. March, 1989. p. 4A
O'Driscoll, Bill. "Nevada lawmakers shy away from gun laws." Reno Gazette-Journal. June 5, 1999. p. 3