By Jacob Solis
With fervent chants of “campus carry has got to go,” students and faculty alike hoisted signs of protest against the proposed Assembly Bill 148. The rally, dubbed the “Say No to the Guns Everywhere” Bill Teach In, drew a crowd of hundreds to the steps of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center last Wednesday, March 25. From behind a podium atop the Knowledge Center steps, 10 speakers that ranged from students and professors to provost Kevin Carman and state Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, presented a multitude of arguments challenging the highly controversial AB 148.
If passed, AB 148 would allow gun owners with concealed carry permits to carry their weapons onto Nevada System of Higher Education and K-12 campuses, childcare facilities and public airports. Additionally, the bill would void the Board of Regents’ ability to draft rules contradicting the bill.
Currently, students may only carry a gun on campus if they appeal themselves to the president of the university and are able to justify a need for the weapon. In 2014, five students were granted permission to carry their weapons out of 11 total requests.
AB 148, which is co-sponsored by 21 legislators across both chambers, was passed by the Assembly Judiciary Committee with unanimous Republican support on March 18. Though the bill has yet to go before the full assembly, failure in its chamber of origin is unlikely. Nineteen of the bill’s co-sponsors belong to the 42-member assembly, requiring a mere three extra votes to achieve the requisite simple majority.
Even before the bill was first read to the Judiciary Committee on March 5, the state of Nevada has found itself split squarely in two camps. By that date, the committee had received a roughly equal number of letters and other testimony in support and in opposition to AB 148. In the following weeks, a great many more organizations and individual Nevadans have jumped to both sides of the debate.
Those opposed to the bill are primarily the people and institutions the bill would affect most. The Associated Students of the University of Nevada Senate and the UNR Graduate Student Association, representing the undergraduate and graduate population respectively, each submitted resolutions condemning the bill. Furthermore, in a survey conducted by the UNR Faculty Senate, 85 percent of respondent faculty members opposed the bill, in tandem with the UNR administration and campus police who each released statements strongly opposing AB 148.
Conversely, those in support of the bill are a more diverse group, ranging from pro-gun students and teachers to large organizations such as the National Rifle Association. In its letter to committee chair Ira Hansen, R-Washoe, the NRA challenged the notion that campuses are an “oasis free from the filth of the world” and stressed the necessity of the bill as a safety measure.
Furthermore, proponents of the bill have made the claim that campus carry would decrease the incidence of rape on college campuses, citing specifically the 2007 rape of UNR student Amanda Collins. Collins, who testified for a failed iteration of campus carry in 2013, has said she may not have been able to prevent her attack outright, but would have at least had the ability to defend herself if she had been carrying her weapon. Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, the assemblywoman who introduced the bill, has gone as far as to say AB 148 will become “Amanda’s Law” if passed.
Even so, opponents remain skeptical that the bill could have a noticeable affect on campus sexual assault or crime rates in general. One such skeptic is Nick Andrew, the ASUN senator who penned the resolution opposing AB 148 and the first speaker to address the crowd at Wednesday’s rally.
“The insinuation that sexual assault on college campuses will decrease or end if this bill is passed is simply wrong,” Andrew said. “Eighty percent of victims of unwanted sexual conduct know the perpetrator [while] alcohol and drugs contribute to 33 percent of incidents. To say that guns prevent sexual assault is to misunderstand the very nature of sexual assault on our campus.”
Those opponents present at the rally continued in presenting possible negative outcomes of AB 148. Worries were raised over a potential increase in security costs that could detract from UNR’s current research budget as well as concerns over the state of free speech and whether or not the bill may hurt intellectual diversity on campus.
From the other side of the aisle, pro-campus carry graduate student Greg Ross maintains that such concerns are overblown. Ross was among several pro-campus carry students and alumni who attended the rally as a counter-protest.
“I feel that one person armed in the right place at the right time can save a lot of lives,” Ross said. “I don’t see why there would be increased security costs, concealed carry owners are some of the most responsible citizens in the nation. I don’t see any reason why [UNR] should have to spend any money as a result of [AB 148].”
Ultimately, the debate over AB 148 is far from over. Campus carry has been proposed by the Nevada legislature twice and failed both times in the face of stiff opposition from state Democrats. However, with a Republican majority in both chambers, the stars seemed to have finally aligned for campus carry. Even so, opponents of the bill, as evidenced by the size of Wednesday’s rally, have made it clear that the fight will go on until the last votes are called.
Jacob Solis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.