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September 1, 2014

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UNLV police chief ready to fight to keep guns off campus

Banning weapons on campus

  • More than 200 colleges in six states allow some form of concealed-carry guns on campus. Recent legislation and court rulings declared that colleges in Colorado, Mississippi, Oregon, Wisconsin and Utah cannot ban firearms on campus.

  • Nevada was one of 18 states in 2011 that introduced legislation to allow concealed-carry weapons on college campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Wisconsin and Mississippi were the only two states to enact campus concealed-carry laws that year.

  • More than 350 of 4,150 college presidents across the nation have signed a letter in opposition to such laws. UNR President Marc Johnson has signed the letter, which can be viewed at CollegePresidentsforGunSafety.org.

  • UNLV President Neal Smatresk has not signed the letter but supports a campus gun ban.

UNLV's police chief said he was prepared to testify before the Legislature against a proposed bill that would allow guns on Nevada’s college campuses.

Freshman Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, is expected to reintroduce legislation in the coming weeks that would allow concealed-weapon permit holders to carry guns on the UNLV campus and other state college campuses. In the past few years, UNLV has received six conceal-carry requests from students but has denied them, citing Nevada statutes.

Currently, state law prohibits firearms at Nevada's seven public colleges and universities. The Nevada's higher education system also prohibits a myriad of weapons, including firearms, switchblades, nunchakus and metal knuckles. State laws and university policies, however, do not prohibit shorter knives and pepper sprays.

UNLV Police Chief Jose Elique said he would like to see the campus ban on guns continue. Elique – who has more than 40 years of experience in law enforcement – testified against a similar bill that failed last session amid heated debate.

Proponents of such bills argue gun-holstering students and staff could help prevent mass school shootings, such as the one that occurred in 2007 at Virginia Tech University. Fiore did not respond to requests for comment.

Opponents, such as Elique, say such legislative proposals are just "feel-good solutions" that could have unintended consequences, especially for police officers responding to an "active shooter" on campus.

Since the 1999 Columbine massacre, police officers have changed the way they respond to gunmen at schools, Elique said.

Instead of securing a perimeter around the school and waiting for armed SWAT officers, the first police officers on the scene are trained to find and "neutralize" the shooter as fast as they can. That's because the average school shooting lasts just 12 minutes.

In the heat of the moment, having a "plethora of weapons" on campus can confuse first-responders who are trying to discern the "good person" from the "bad person," Elique said.

"We don't know who the active shooter is. We're looking for anyone with a gun," Elique said. "We're not going to going around asking, 'Do you have a license?' We might shoot you."

Unlike campus police officers – who undergo six months of instruction and three-times-a-year trainings – conceal-carry gun owners are not trained to respond in such situations, Elique said. Nevada's carry permit laws require eight hours of training, none of which address how to engage and neutralize a school shooter.

This lack of training could result in "friendly fire" between armed students, Elique said. Active shooters also could force armed students and staff to relinquish their guns and ammunition, potentially adding to the carnage, he added.

Elique also warned the combination of alcohol and firearms at athletic events and campus parties could be deadly. The potential for accidental discharges – and subsequent injuries and fatalities – are higher when there are more guns on campus, he added.

"This is a solution that sounds good, but it's not the right answer," Elique said.

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  1. We already had this debate in the Nevada Legislature less than two years ago. In 2011, Sen. John Lee's committee held a hearing on his Campus Carry Weapons bill-the same bill being proposed today. Students testified that they didn't want it. Teachers testified that they didn't want it. Employees testified that they didn't want it. The campus police testified that they didn't want it. Who wanted it? Sen. John Lee, who is now running for mayor of North Las Vegas.

  2. As one of the students that testified against this two years ago I'm backing up what William Hilton stated. Fast forward to 2013 and nothing has changed. Students, teachers, employees and police still don't want guns on college campuses. We appreciate the concern but politicians need to get their "NRA wings" some other way.

  3. Why not have guns on campus if you have a Concealed Weapons Permit?