A Loaded Question

A Loaded Question

PERHAPS YOU'VE HEARD THAT THE NEVADA System of Higher Education's Board of Regents is considering a plan to allow faculty and staff members at its eight institutions to become armed reserve police officers in the hope of preventing violent attacks like the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech in April. Regent Stavros Anthony, a Las Vegas police captain, outlined a plan in June in which NSHE employees could sign up for 21 weeks of police training. These reserve officers wouldn't carry radios or respond to typical campus incidents, yet they would carry firearms and be expected to go into action in a major incident. The plan would cost an estimated $3,500 per person in training and equipment.

According to John Kuhlman, manager of Public Information for the NSHE, the board will take up the proposal next month in its regular meeting. Whether it moves forward remains to be seen, but the proposal raises many questions.

Without trying to sound flip, I wonder whether Anthony's plan is an overreaction to what is, fortunately, an extremely rare occurrence on college campuses. After all, the majority of "real world" officers never fire their guns in the course of duty. Is putting more guns in more hands really the answer?

Most universities ban guns on campus except for law enforcement use. And there are some, like Brandeis University, Framingham State College, and Suffolk University (all Mass.), and City College of San Francisco, that don't even allow their officers to carry firearms.

Only Utah currently allows the carrying of concealed weapons on campus, the result of a long and contentious battle between the University of Utah and the state's attorney general, who had threatened to cut off state funds if the school didn't acquiesce.

Other states may follow suit, especially after the Virginia Tech tragedy. South Carolina legislators are considering a concealed- carry bill for colleges and universities that will be taken up again when they begin their next session.

Is putting more guns in more hands really the answer?

To be fair to Anthony's plan, it would appear to be built on a solid foundation. The firearms industry can produce reams of well-researched and documented evidence to show that incidents of violent crime are lower in states that allow concealed-carry firearms. But those concealed-carry citizens are not expected to be an extension of law enforcement. Presumably, they use their guns only in self defense. By contrast, the Nevada plan puts the onus on faculty members and staff to respond as certified officers and make the kind of snap decisions that even experienced officers struggle with.

Given the required five-month training period, will enough faculty or staff members even sign up to make the effort worthwhile? What will be the reserve officers' liability if they do fire a weapon? Will they be compensated for their police duty?

But maybe what bothers me most about Anthony's plan is his comment that it would bring reserve officers onto campus without having to pay for additional officers. Such frugality might be admirable when it comes to, say, softball coaches, but when an institution's safety and security is at stake, isn't it wiser to invest in measures that would have a deeper effect?

Wouldn't the time and resources be better spent on hiring full-time officers that can extend the capabilities of an existing force? Maybe those funds can be spent on additional security cameras or locking systems instead. Or how about diverting that money into the under-funded mental health services that might forestall a tragedy long before it materializes?

I'd like to hear your opinion of this very serious matter. Write to me at the address below and share your thoughts.

Write to Tim Goral at tgoral@universitybusiness.com.


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