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UNLV Police Chief Opposes Bill Allowing Students to Carry Guns on Campus

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The UNLV police chief opposes a bill that would allow students with a concealed weapons permit to have their personal firearms on campus.

Student safety in situations that involve an “active shooter” is the primary concern for Chief Jose A. Elique.  Active shooters are situations where a shooter opens fire on a campus.

“If the law changes, we’re putting ourselves and [permit holders with guns] at risk,” Elique said. “It complicates our response immensely.”

Republican Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, a gun right’s advocate, introduced Assembly Bill 143 on Feb. 18. A similar bill in 2011 passed through the Senate, but failed to pass the Assembly.

“I’ve taken [Senator John Lee’s] bill and reintroduced it,” Fiore said. “There is not a good reason besides bureaucracy and power…for law-abiding citizens with weapons permits to not carry on campus.”

Elique said that more guns on campus are not the solution. He believes that this bill will hinder police response, rather than increase the safety on campus.

“The number of guns on campus…might give rise to a false sense of security,” Elique said.

The UNLV Police are Category One Peace Officers and attend police academy and train with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, as well as qualify on their weapons three times a year and have a two-minute response time.

“When our officers respond to an active shooter situation on a campus, they are going to respond in what we call a tactical fashion. We want to identify, engage and eliminate that shooter as quickly as possible,” Elique said. “A plethora of individuals…with guns, it’s going to be very difficult for the police to identify who the actual perpetrator of that crime is, and as such it’s putting those people in danger, because the cops are going to respond tactically.”

Fiore said that she doesn’t think this is a viable reason to keep law-abiding citizens with permits from having guns with them on campus.

“There’s never been an issue like that at a school where you could not identify an active shooter,” Fiore said. “When you make up scenarios, it never works. How do you respond to a made-up scenario?”

Allowing students to carry their firearms on campus is a right, not a privilege, Fiore said.

“This is a very quiet bill. The only reason why it is public is because the media has picked it up. Universities aren’t going to walk around with a sign on their forehead saying ‘hey, we have firearms,’” she said. “I’m not opposed to having the president and campus staff know who [permit holders] are.”

Elique said he understands what the assemblywoman is trying to accomplish, but the execution is ill-advised.

“I recognize the frustration on the part of legislators to address the seemingly endemic problem of guns on campus…however, it’s very complicated. It’s a multi-faceted problem that needs to be approached with a lot of common sense [and] well thought-out solutions,” he said. “I don’t believe the plan is well thought-out. It will just increase the number of weapons on campus. I think it would also embolden people who were not trained to act.”

The president of the university, Neal Smatresk, agrees with the chief’s assessment of the gun situation on campus.

“I’m happy with [the current policy] and I wouldn’t be supportive of any other legislation. My decision is informed by what our officers on campus recommend,” Smatresk said.

The current policy says that firearms are not allowed on campus unless there is written permission from the president of the university.

The Nevada System of Higher Education chancellor and Faculty Senate at UNLV are also opposed to the passing of this bill, according to Elique. Some of the other concerns that Elique has include domestic violence on campus and alcohol use. These situations could escalate if a person is armed.

Fiore said she believes in the right for students to be able to defend themselves in situations of assault or rape, citing a rape that happened to a University of Nevada, Reno student who carried a permit, but was not allowed to have her gun on her.

She also said that the issue is not one of Republican or Democrat, and that the National Rifle Association is bipartisan.

“A lot of the message that has to get through is that the NRA is not republican, the NRA is American,” she said. “We have a lot of support.”

Smatresk said more weapons are not the solution.

“The fewer weapons that are on campus, the safer the campus is,” Smatresk said. “I would not be enthusiastic about anything increasing the number of concealed weapons on campus.”

Active shooter situations in Nevada are just speculation, Fiore said.

According to Elique, the scenarios are based off of unfortunate incidents in other schools, such as Columbine, Virginia Tech and most recently Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“The entire training syllabus has changed from what we did prior to Columbine,” Elique said. “Although these things only have to happen once, we’ve been fortunate that we’ve never had a gun incident of that magnitude on this campus.”

Even so, he said that the constant training is the best defense against all types of situations.

“You have got to train constantly to thwart those types of attacks,” Elique said.

Although there is no clear-cut solution, Elique said that this bill is not a step in the right direction.

“There is no clean answer for it. I just don’t think that it’s a one step solution, allowing people to have more guns on a campus at all,” Elique said. “We’re sworn to uphold the law. If that should change, we wouldn’t like it, but we would learn to adapt.”

Five states currently allow individuals to carry concealed firearms on college campuses. These states are Colorado, Mississippi, Utah, Oregon and Wisconsin, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures website.

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