Campus gun bill passes Senate committee

A fight over concealed weapons on Nevada college campuses is about to hit the Senate floor after winning committee approval Friday.

SB231 would allow people who are licensed to carry concealed weapons to bring their guns onto Nevada colleges and universities.

Concealed weapons are currently allowed at universities and colleges with the campus president's approval.

Debate over the bill began last week with emotional support from witnesses such as Amanda Collins, who was raped in the parking garage at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Collins, who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon, said if she had been allowed to be armed, she could have stopped serial rapist James Biela.

Biela, a former Marine and pipefitter, was convicted last year and sentenced to death for the January 2008 killing and sexual assault of 19-year-old Brianna Denison. He was also sentenced to four life terms for raping Collins and another woman in late 2007.

In her public testimony, Collins told the Senate Committee on Government Affairs that subsequent measures to make the area where she was attacked more safe are worthless. She said she would not have been able to reach the emergency call box that is there now because Biela had her pinned to the ground.

Not just women support the bill.

Assemblyman Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, told the committee last week that he sometimes feels unsafe at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he teaches. Hammond is licensed to carry a concealed weapon and told the committee he would consider bringing his firearm to campus if SB231 becomes law.

Bill sponsor Sen. John Lee, D-Las Vegas, called Nevada's unarmed campuses "defenseless victim zones," which he said some refer to as "criminal empowerment zones."

Opponents, however, are not buying the personal protection argument. Nor are they swayed by arguments that bills like SB231 could prevent shootings such as those at Virginia Tech or Columbine High School in Colorado.

Jim Richardson, a professor at UNR and a representative for the Nevada Faculty Alliance, called the proposition "ridiculous" and "crazy."

"It's a tragedy waiting to happen," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

Richardson said the solution is to identify where unsafe areas are on campus and implement better lighting and foot patrols.

"I just don't buy the idea that more guns make campuses safer," he said, adding that the Virginia Tech shooter, who killed 32 people in 2007, had a permit. The Nevada permitting process is no better and is "full of holes," Richardson said.

"You can get a gun if you are mentally deficient," he said.

At Friday's hearing, Lee said the Board of Regents had not contacted him to voice dissent. Later in the day, Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, said that lack of contact should not be taken as an endorsement of the bill.

"I do not support the bill," Klaich said, adding that he, along with college and university presidents, "stood behind our chiefs of police who testified at the initial hearing and testified against the legislation."

UNR Police Chief Adam Garcia spoke against the bill during a March 18 hearing and reiterated his opposition Friday.

"I am very disappointed it has made it as far as it has," he said.

Friday's dissenting vote on the committee came from Sen. Michael Schneider, D-Las Vegas.

"I think this bill is something that we should not process. I've talked to several professors who live in my district. They are appalled that we're even discussing this," Schneider said.

He noted police testimony that crime is down.

Right before the vote, Schneider told his colleagues, "This puts a scarlet letter on all our colleges to make a statement like this to the nation, and I will fight this bill.

"I'll fight it on the floor if it makes it to the floor. I'll fight it in the Assembly if it makes it to the floor," he said.


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