Thursday, June 2, 2011

Are campuses "sensitive places" or "criminal empowerment zones?"

At yesterday's hearing on SB 231, the bill that would strip NSHE's Board of Regents and campus presidents of all authority to oversee the carrying of concealed guns on NSHE college campuses, the bill's sponsor suggested the bill was necessary because NSHE campuses are currently "criminal empowerment zones".

This is worthy of some thought.

On the most obvious level, it is painful to hear a state legislator discuss our campuses as if they exist primarily to encourage criminal behavior. In fact, this is simply a reiteration of a cliche promoted by the National Rifle Association, and no one at the hearing seemed to take this term seriously.

It is worth noting however that it is empirically incorrect, insofar as both national and local statistics show there is significantly less violent crime against persons on college campuses than in society at large. Clearly, those intending to commit violent crimes with illegal guns do not target college campuses but instead look elsewhere -- to places where concealed weapons permit-holders are presumably already carrying.

To those national organizations who have become involved in this issue, and encouraged our local leaders to view our campuses as "criminal empowerment zones," we welcome your interest in campus safety and in our students. We regret that you have been unable to help support the much more significant threat facing students on our campuses, that of severe tuition hikes and diminished access to courses, due to steep cuts in public support.

To turn to the bill itself, the most salient issue is not whether or not CCW-permit carriers are dangerous (no one maintains that) or whether students are in danger on NSHE campuses (statistically, they are not, but even one crime is too many, without a doubt). The issues are

1. whether the current situation, in which CCW-permit holders may carry concealed guns on campus if they apply for and receive permission from the campus president, is a restriction of the rights of CCW-permit holders

2. if so, whether the proposed legislation is the best way to remedy that problem.

We believe, without a doubt, that the answer to both questions is no. And we testified to that effect yesterday.

Case law clearly supports what Justice Scalia in District of Columbia v. Heller called "reasonable restrictions" on an individual's right to bear arms under the 2nd amendment and moreover specified schools as an example of "sensitive places" where such restrictions may be imposed. Moreover, in a decision issued in January 2011, Digiacinto vs Visitors and Rectors of George Mason University, the Virginia state supreme court upheld a complete ban on guns on the George Mason campus (much more restrictive than current Nevada law) under that doctrine.

The term "sensitive places" refers not to an emotional sensitivity, but to the sensitivity of maintaining public order in such places as college campuses, due to the wide range of populations and activities which take place there -- early childhood education, primary education, youth summer camps, senior citizen activities, gymnasiums, dormitories, parking lots, sports events, performing arts events, fraternity parties, and of course classrooms, libraries and laboratories. All of these are spaces that are fully public in the sense that no individual can withdraw from them, and all of these spaces overlap and coincide to such a degree that it is very difficult to separate out where one ends and another begins.

Precisely because the proposed bill seeks to exempt from those spaces where concealed guns may be carried some of these spaces and activities -- dormitories and sporting event venue in particular, as well as what are vaguely described as "public buildings on public school property" -- and because existing legislation exempts others -- early childhood preschools and elementary schools in particular -- it is not at all clear what this would mean on any given campus. This would make the problem of policing campuses, and enforcing this law, much more complicated and expensive for our campus police forces. And it will create a great deal of difficulty for administrations and faculty in making policies governing policing and gun use on campuses.

In short, the proposed bill does not remedy an untenable situation, because existing restrictions on CCW-permit carriers are constitutionally valid, and the proposed bill does not clearly enhance or protect those rights, because it is not at all clear where it would be in effect. If there is to be a clearer determination made, it will require much greater study of the geography and police strategies on each campus, which is simply not possible for the legislature to take up in the final days of the session.

Such study is better undertaken by the Board of Regents in conjunction with the campuses, and we urged the legislature to refer this matter where it belongs, constitutionally and procedurally, with the Regents.

The ACLU and some of the more thoughtful advocates for the bill have pointed out that there are not clear procedures for CCW-permit holders to apply for permission to carry on campus or clear procedures for the adjudication of such requests. We believe that if it is necessary to make such a clarification, it should be done -- again -- in consultation with campus police authorities, campus administrations and yes faculty representatives. It is to us a sign of the lack of seriousness of the bill's proponents that such consultation did not take place prior to the introduction of the bill and still has not taken place at this late date.

For all these reasons, we urge the Assembly Judiciary committee not to advance the bill, which would impose a one-size-fits-all solution on all parts of all eight NSHE campuses, and instead instruct, by resolution if necessary, the Board of Regents to take up this matter.

That is a reasonable compromise, and one which we believe the legislature ought and will adopt.

No comments:

Post a Comment