Las Vegas Sun

March 28, 2023

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Of all higher ed issues facing the Legislature, guns on campus shoots to top

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J. Patrick Coolican

CARSON CITY — Of all the problems facing the beleaguered Nevada System of Higher Education, which one seems so urgent that the Legislature would take it up? Perhaps it’s how to deal with deep budget cuts, which will be at least $200 million when you count the loss of federal stimulus money? Or access for underprivileged students? Or graduation rates? Or the division of resources between UNR and UNLV?

Well, if you guessed any of those, you’d be wrong. The real pressing issue? We’ve got to make it easier for people to carry concealed firearms on campus. Hell yeah!

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not big on gun control. Given that there’s a firearm for every man, woman and child in America, I don’t see much point, aside from vigorously enforcing measures to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those who are a danger to themselves or others.

And although there’s sharp disagreement between constitutional historians and the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court on the meaning of the Second Amendment, it’s settled law, and so that is that.

Be that as it may, to the legislators climbing all over themselves to give our students and professors the right to carry concealed weapons on campus, I ask: Really?

As for now, if you have a permit, you can carry your concealed weapon on campus if you get written permission from the university president; with Senate Bill 231, which has passed the Senate and got a hearing today in an Assembly committee, you won’t need permission.

Our universities, which are cutting salaries, jobs and even whole programs, will for years find it difficult to recruit talented faculty. This legislation — and make no mistake, news of its passage will spread quickly — will only make it harder to shed our Dodge City reputation. From my research, it seems only Utah allows anything similar, although other states are getting close to approving campus guns. Conservative Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer — Jan Brewer! — vetoed similar legislation in Arizona.

So, why are lawmakers proceeding?

Some of this would seem to be naked political opportunism, especially for Democrats who don’t want to be tagged with the anti-gun label in a state where gun ownership is considered a civic duty.

The gun lobby, despite near total victory in the past two decades, apparently won’t be satisfied until we all have a gun under our pillow, a gun at a UNLV keg party, a gun on our hip as we walk the Strip.

It’s smart politics — maximalism. Fight until your opponent, his neck under your boot, cries “uncle.”

The National Rifle Association, in a letter of support for this hugely pressing issue of not enough concealed firearms on campus, says it’s a safety issue. Turns out, there are lots of sex offenders near the campuses of UNLV, UNR and College of Southern Nevada, and the law-abiding need their concealed weapons to defend themselves. The reality, however, is that although areas off campus may have pockets of crime, the campuses themselves are quite safe.

Anyway, do guns and our self-defense vigilante fantasists make us safer?

The Harvard School of Public Health reviewed the literature in 2009 and found that gun availability is a risk factor for homicide. (I know, the gun haters at Harvard can’t be trusted.)

But even if you disagree and think guns make us safer, surely you can see how we might hesitate when it comes to college campuses. For one thing, the academy is based on the idea of civil discourse, and somehow it doesn’t feel quite right that one scholar in an intellectual argument about, say, political philosophy, might be armed. Call me crazy.

Let’s turn to more concrete issues of public safety.

According to a survey by American College Health Association, 35 to 40 percent of college students engage in binge drinking during a given two-week period.

Hmmm. Guns, drinking and late-adolescent men who can no longer take out their frustrations on high school football fields. Let the fun begin.

UNLV’s chief of police is against the idea. He’s worried about the whole booze and guns thing and what the presence of concealed weapons might do to the intellectual environment. He’s also concerned about where the guns would be stored on campus; accidental discharges; an assailant overpowering a permitted gun owner and arming himself, and police mistaking a lawfully armed citizen for a threat to public safety and firing on him.

The university presidents and faculty alliance are also against, as is the Nevada System of Higher Education.

But what do they know? This is clearly an issue to be settled by our “citizen legislators” who’ve got future elections to think about.

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