Monday, March 23, 2015

Guns on campus?

by John W. Farley, President UNLV chapter of NFA and Tim Bungum, Professor, UNLV Dept of Health Promotion

A number of bills have been drafted or proposed in Carson City that might result in more guns on campus.  Current Nevada law allows anyone with a concealed carry permit to bring a gun onto an NSHE campus only if the gun owner has the explicit permission of the college or university president. In practice, the president delegates that decision to the campus chief of police.  The UNLV chief of police explained to a meeting of the UNLV Faculty Senate that  if an incident occurs, the campus police chief wants his officers to be the only armed force on the scene.  The task of the university police would be hindered, not helped, by the presence of other armed individuals. In real life, as opposed to the movies, it is not always easy to distinguish immediately a good guy from a bad guy. 

While NFA has not developed a position on every proposed bill, in the past NFA has strongly supported the existing law, and strongly opposed changing the law to make it easier to bring a gun on campus.  In the last legislature, NFA, the NSHE presidents, and the Chancellor and the Board of Regents were all in agreement on this issue.

A useful perspective that has too often been absent from the debate is the public health perspective, aimed at harm reduction. David Hemenway is a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, where he directs the Injury Control Research Center. His research on gun violence was reported in his 2006 book, Private Guns, Public Health. Hemenway seeks pragmatic solutions that reduce the number of gun deaths, rather than assigning blame. His is a public health perspective, not a crime perspective. Hemenway found that  homicides are frequently impulsive acts, in which the convenience and ready availability of guns allows a confrontation that otherwise would result in a black eye or broken tooth to results instead in a tragedy.

The Hemenway book has a chapter on guns in school, including the following important points:
1. Our schools are safe, but not as safe as schools in other similar countries.
2. 30-35 students are killed by guns in a typical school years (at school).
3. All school killings involved guns (in one study).
4. About 6000 kids a year are expelled for bringing guns to school.
5. Kids who bring guns to school are more apt to smoke, receive poor grades and have guns in the home.
6. All kids who killed at school had easy access to guns.
7. College males who own a gun are more apt to engage in reckless behavior involving alcohol, drive while intoxicated, distrust the police, damage property and sustain an alcohol-related injury.
8. In places with more guns, more students report being victims of gun threats than in other places.
9. Surveys show that most people believe that they will be less safe if more people have guns.
10. Most states that made carrying laws more permissive showed slight increases in homicides.

A summary of the entire Hemenway book includes three documented findings:

1. Arming citizens appears to increase rather than decrease lethal violence.

2. Permissive gun laws appear to be detrimental to the health of the public. 

3. More than 90% of adults in one survey expressed the desire to outlaw guns on campus.