NRA Promotion Day: AB 148 in the Nevada Assembly Judiciary Committee

 AB 148 The Nevada Assembly’s Committee on the Judiciary will take testimony on the NRA Dream Bill, AB 148 – guns on campus – tomorrow, and the University of Nevada system isn’t pleased.   The University system’s points should be taken seriously: 1. Campus sexual and other assaults are discrete problems, and should be addressed as such; 2. Campuses are faced with both illegal drug and alcohol use, and the addition of guns simple complicates matters; 3. The proposal removes critical administrative powers and responsibilities from local hands; 4. The prevalence of firearms on a campus makes recruiting both students and faculty more difficult; 5. In an academic atmosphere which invites debate, guns add an element of insecurity should an academic argument escalate; 6. The age of college student population needs to be taken into consideration since many are below the age required to secure a concealed carry permit.

Prevention or Promotion?

We might juxtapose these elements against the NRA’s ambitious claim that opponents of concealed carry allowance on college campuses are “OK with sexual assaults that could supposedly be prevented by guns.” [MMA]

No one is “OK with sexual assaults,” however the NRA proposal requires adopting the idea that the assaults are functions of the “burglar coming in through the window” scenario.  This is easy to refute:

“Most rapes, especially among college students, are acquaintance rapes and defy the burglar-coming-in-the-window fantasy of self defense that gun advocates like to invoke. “If you have a rape situation, usually it starts with some sort of consensual behavior, and by the time it switches to nonconsensual, it would be nearly impossible to run for a gun,” John D. Foubert, anti-rape activist and Oklahoma State University told the New York Times. That’s a best case scenario. There’s also a concern that allowing guns on campus would make it easier for rapists to rape: Get a girl to your room, start messing around, and when you want to attack, show her the gun you’re now allowed to have on campus.” [Slate]  

In short, the presence of firearms might just as easily make the situation less safe for the victim if guns are allowed on campus with little restriction.  At this point we need to note another point made by the University system: 30% of those on campuses are under 21 years of age. [RGJ]  There’s more to this point that merely the technical statutory language defining an adult.

The Maturation Factor

The advocates of campus carry are ignoring a point about that 30% which the parents would recognize immediately – adolescent brains are different, under construction if you will.  The NIH explains:

“The research has turned up some surprises, among them the discovery of striking changes taking place during the teen years. These findings have altered long-held assumptions about the timing of brain maturation. In key ways, the brain doesn’t look like that of an adult until the early 20s.

An understanding of how the brain of an adolescent is changing may help explain a puzzling contradiction of adolescence: young people at this age are close to a lifelong peak of physical health, strength, and mental capacity, and yet, for some, this can be a hazardous age. Mortality rates jump between early and late adolescence. Rates of death by injury between ages 15 to 19 are about six times that of the rate between ages 10 and 14. Crime rates are highest among young males and rates of alcohol abuse are high relative to other ages. Even though most adolescents come through this transitional age well, it’s important to understand the risk factors for behavior that can have serious consequences.”

There’s research explaining why this period is so “hazardous,” —

“One interpretation of all these findings is that in teens, the parts of the brain involved in emotional responses are fully online, or even more active than in adults, while the parts of the brain involved in keeping emotional, impulsive responses in check are still reaching maturity. Such a changing balance might provide clues to a youthful appetite for novelty, and a tendency to act on impulse—without regard for risk.”  [NIH]

There’s a reason we proscribe some activities for adolescents – not because we don’t love or respect them, but because we understand that they are human beings whose brains are still in the maturation process, and that until that maturation takes place they are impulsive, emotional, and often incomprehensible.  Bless their hearts, they are walking Risk Factors. AB 148 asks us to place our faith in armed freshmen for campus security?

Perilous Assumptions

Heretofore, we’ve concluded that someone other than campus security or police who was armed on campus was up to no good — the “bad guy,” and campus security were trained accordingly.  There have been enough tragic “accidents” of late when police officers mistook a young person playing with a gun for an actual threat.  By allowing “campus carry” do we risk more incidents in which someone reports a “person with a gun” and security personnel act out their training?  Does not AB 148 invite more such incidents?

We also assume that the possession of a firearm means it is intended to be used on “the other,” the villain of the piece, however all too often the combination of adolescent immaturity and psychological conflict leads to the opposite pole.  The Harvard School of Public Health reports that those adolescents who died by suicide were more likely to live in homes with guns. Further, 85% of suicide attempts with a firearm are fatal;  the option is fast and irreversible.  By contrast, suffocation was 69% lethal, jumping was 31% fatal, and poisonings/overdoses were 2% fatal. [HSPH]

Emory University adds another note of caution.  Their research indicates that one in ten college students has made a plan for suicide. Suicidal ideation and suicide attempts are higher among young adults aged 18-25 years than for those over 26. And, lifetime thoughts of suicide attempts are reported to occur among 5% of graduate students and 18% of undergraduates.  With these statistics from HSPH and Emory University in mind, any proposal for the proliferation of guns on campus should be tempered by consideration of how those firearms might ultimately be used. 

We might want to move a step further, and look at the implications of the ready access to guns, as was done in a meta-analysis by UCSF:

“Researchers found striking gender differences in the data. When firearms were accessible, men were nearly four times more likely to commit suicide than when firearms were not accessible, while women were almost three times more likely to be victims of homicide.”

Thus, not only does the presence of firearms make male suicide attempts more lethal, but it also increased the incidence of female homicides. Thus much for the argument that guns will make our “hot little girls” more safe?  The point of “adult supervision” is to keep young people safe – not to promote the means by which they could harm themselves or be harmed by others. 

There are both institutional and personal reasons to prevent the proliferation of firearms on campuses.  Colleges and universities are not safer for the proliferation, nor are their faculties and students. Only in the perfervid imaginations of those deluded into believing that gun possession equates to personal security do the research reports and statistics not matter.   All lives matter, which is why AB 148 needs to be filed away as far from the Assembly floor as possible.

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