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May 28, 2015

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Regents reaffirm opposition to guns on campus

Nevada's higher education leaders voted to maintain an on-campus ban on guns after a heated debate Friday.

The issue: Assembly Bill 143, which would have allowed people with concealed weapons permits to carry their weapons on the state’s public college and university campuses, failed to make it out of committee last week.

However, Nevada's higher education regents decided to take a vote on Friday to reaffirm their position on the issue, because the "campus carry" idea could resurface in another bill later in the legislative session. A similar "campus carry" bill failed during the 2011 legislative session.

The vote: Regents took two votes.

The first, to support allowing "campus carry" failed 4-8, with Regent Robert Blakely abstaining. Regents Mark Doubrava, Ron Knect, Kevin Page and Allison Stephens voted in favor of allowing concealed-carry permit holders to bring their guns on campus.

The second, to affirm regent's longstanding opposition to "campus carry" was approved 8-3, with Regent Jack Schofield and Allison Stephens absent. Regents Mark Doubrava, Ron Knecht and Kevin Page voted against.

The impact: For nearly three decades, the Nevada System of Higher Education has maintained a ban on weapons on its seven college and university campuses.

In a response to high-profile school shootings, gun advocates – such as the National Rifle Association – have called for teachers and college students to arm themselves in an attempt to prevent mass shootings. Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, reintroduced legislation to allow concealed-carry weapons on campus.

On Friday, Knecht and Stephens urged their fellow regents to reconsider the longstanding ban.

A gun-free school zone doesn't have any effect on "the bad guys," Knecht argued.

"The bad guys are going to ignore the gun-free zone anyway," he said. "The current status quo is making us less safe. I think we should support campus carry."

Knecht echoed the emotional testimony of Amanda Collins, a UNR student who in 2007 was raped at gunpoint at an on-campus parking garage. Her attacker, James Michael Biela, was arrested and later sentenced to death for committing two subsequent rapes, one of which ended in murder.

"The people who have opposed campus carry in Mrs. Collins’ mind have blood on their hands," Knecht said. "I think that's a reasonable point to argue."

"Are you saying if I oppose this bill I have blood on my hands?" Regent Michael Wixom retorted, calling Knecht's comments "largely emotional and largely ineffective." "I greatly take offense and I strongly oppose (campus carry)."

More than 200 colleges in six states allow some form of concealed-carry guns on campus. Nevada colleges and universities have banned firearms on campus since 1984.

Campus carry opponents – such as UNLV Police Chief Jose Elique – argue such legislative proposals are just "feel-good" solutions that could have unintended consequences, such as "friendly fire" and more gun accidents on campuses.

More than 350 of 4,150 college presidents across the nation – including UNR President Marc Johnson – have signed a letter in opposition to campus carry laws.

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