Colleges claim they have final approval over weapons while ignoring state law
LAS VEGAS — A North Las Vegas peace officer is challenging the College of Southern Nevada’s weapons policy before the Nevada System of Higher Education’s Board of Regents. He says the college’s policy is inconsistent with state law.
Patrick Mendez, a sworn peace officer and corrections officer with the Nevada Department of Prisons, was prohibited from carrying his handgun on the CSN campus at the beginning of his Winter 2011 semester.
CSN officials told him that his peace-officer status didn’t exempt him from their strict no-weapons policy.
“I am a correctional officer and as such, the need to defend myself at all times is greater than for the average citizen,” said Mendez during an April 20 NSHE Board of Regents meeting.
“This law is so prohibitive that without written permission I cannot leave my weapon secured in my vehicle in the parking lot of the campus, which leaves me defenseless on my way to and from school.”
One of the laws at issue is NRS 202.265, which prohibits weapons on the property of schools and child care facilities. Section 3 of the statute, however, lists several exemptions to the law, one of which is “peace officer”:
3. This section does not prohibit the possession of a weapon listed in subsection 1 on the property of:
(a) A private or public school or child care facility by a:
(1) Peace officer;
(2) School security guard; or
(3) Person having written permission from the president of a branch or facility of the Nevada System of Higher Education or the principal of the school or the person designated by a child care facility to give permission to carry or possess the weapon.
CSN’s weapons policy, stated in its employee handbook, references NRS 202.265. It fails to mention the exemption for peace officers, however:
Nevada law (Nevada Revised Statutes 202.265) provides that dangerous weapons, including handguns, are not permitted on campus without the express written approval of the President. This policy shall apply to all persons on the campus except law enforcement officers in the performance of their duties. Facsimile weapons are also banned. Any person found with such weapons on their person may be prosecuted for carrying concealed weapons.
The school’s policy emphasizes written permission from the president, which according to Ron Knecht, the NSHE district 9 regent, is common at the majority of NSHE properties.
“At most NSHE schools, the final authority rests with the school’s president,” said Knecht. “Schools usually cite the NRS [202.265] as their school policy, but ultimately they’re only using the part pertaining to the school president as their law.”
Mendez first became aware of CSN’s policy when he noticed several signs posted at school buildings. He contacted a CSN sergeant and the college’s chief of police, who both confirmed the policy.
Over the next several months, Mendez contacted several top brass at CSN, including Richard Hinckley, CSN’s general counsel, and Michael Richards, CSN’s president. Both refused to hear his case.
“As a correctional officer, I deal with a lot of troubled people: drug dealers, gang members, murderers,” Mendez said in an interview with Nevada Journal. “I’m not just carrying a weapon for the sake of carrying one. My line of work opens itself to a lot of threats, and I constantly need to be on guard.”
Mendez, having no luck with CSN officials, emailed Dan Klaich, NSHE chancellor, and Andrea Anderson, the NSHE district 12 regent.
“Ms. Anderson effectively told me I was wasting my time [challenging the policy] because she agreed with the policy, and [I] wouldn’t convince her to change it,” Mendez said.
When interviewed by Nevada Journal, Anderson deferred to the college president to make the final decisions.
“My personal belief is the less guns on campus, the better,” said Anderson. “However, if the college president feels there’s a need to allow guns on his campus, then I’d respect his decision since he knows his campus best.”
According to Mendez, Anderson told him there’s no need to carry a gun on campus because “that’s what the police is [sic] for,” a sentiment shared by other university officials across the state, including Adam Garcia, the University of Nevada, Reno’s police chief.
“We use NRS 202.265 as our guideline but most requests we receive to bring guns on campus are education-related, such as a student wishing to bring an antique weapon to a history class,” said Garcia. “We prefer guns stay in the hands of the police, since we’re trained to handle them and are responsible for the safety of all individuals on campus.”
State Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, who last session introduced SB 231, a bill which would have allowed individuals with concealed-carry permits to carry their weapons on NSHE property without needing permission from institution presidents, believes concealed carry on campus would actually improve campus safety.
“That’s a common argument: More weapons on campus will increase threats and lead to more Virginia Tech-type incidents,” said Lee, “but an individual who has a permit and is a responsible, law-abiding citizen on one side of the sidewalk isn’t going to suddenly become a threat when he crosses the sidewalk and steps on school property.”
Lee’s bill passed with bipartisan support in the Senate but was buried in committee in the Assembly. Many colleges opposed the bill, including the UNLV Faculty Alliance, which wrote in a blog post about SB 231:
Secondly and more importantly it is entirely unnecessary. Campuses are required to, and do, publish crime statistics and these show that NSHE's campuses are not unsafe. Indeed, the UNLV campus data shows that crime incidents are considerably less frequent on campus than in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Mendez, who is taking the semester off to run for the Assembly, thinks at some point NSHE or CSN will have to admit they don’t have the authority to deny his weapon.
“I think the law’s pretty clear in defining who is exempt and who isn’t,” he said.
“I wish they [CSN and NSHE officials] would revisit their policy and realize if they’re going to use the NRS as a rule, they shouldn’t selectively follow it.”
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