With the legislative session in its final weeks, some advocates fear legislators are about to kill a substantial part of a gun law reform bill.
Assembly Bill 291, which was heard in a joint Senate and Assembly Judiciary Committee April 1, hasn’t seen any official movement since it passed the Assembly floor in a mostly party-line vote April 23 and was referred back to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“We’ve had a number of stakeholders reach out over the past few days to express some concerns about this bill,” said Cheryl Bruce, executive director for the Nevada Senate Democrats, via email. “Before we proceed with moving the bill forward, we want to make sure we are having conversations with anyone who has an interest in it.”
Bruce did not identify the “stakeholders,” and did not respond to a follow-up email.
While the legislation would ban bump stocks and other gun modifications, and lower the amount of alcohol that can be present in the blood of a person in possession of a firearm, it would also undo 2015 legislation that preempted local municipalities from passing ordinances in response to gun violence.
Multiple sources told Nevada Current they fear that when the bill gets another hearing, the provisions restoring local government authority will be amended out.
“We are hearing rumors that this bill is under attack and we are concerned (the preemption provision) will be removed,” said Christian Heyne, the Vice President of Policy with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “That is a cornerstone part of the bill.”
The Current also reached out to Everytown for Gun Safety, a national gun control group that employs nine paid lobbyists in Carson City. The group declined to comment.
Attempts to obtain comment from bill sponsor Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui were unsuccessful.
After the mass shooting during the Route 91 Harvest music festival Oct. 1, 2017, several Democratic lawmakers were outraged to discover local officials were powerless to enact provisions at the municipal level.
That included then-candidate Steve Sisolak who was considering enacting county ordinances to ban bump stocks and take other responses to the shooting. During his gubernatorial race, Sisolak often mentioned “1 October,” and campaigned heavily on gun violence prevention.
In a 2018 Las Vegas Review-Journal article, Sisolak said the Legislature had tied the counties hands in what they could do. “This is one example where we need more flexibility and control handed over to the local governments,” he said in the article.
However, when asked by the Current if the governor would sign legislation that continued to preempt local governments from taking action to stop gun violence, his office did not respond directly, instead saying, “the governor looks forward to monitoring AB291, as it moves through the legislative process.”
Elizabeth Becker, a local spokeswoman with gun violence prevention organization Moms Demand Action, said their group wants to see all the components of AB291 enacted.
“Our County Commission needs the authority to regulate and pass gun legislation at a county level,” she said. “It is needed to keep the Strip safe.”
While she is glad lawmakers passed, and Sisolak signed, legislation at the beginning of the session to close a loophole that allowed gun buyers to avoid background checks by going through unlicensed gun sellers — the legislation was a response to a 2016 ballot initiative that passed but was never enforced — she stressed that preemption laws still need to be reconsidered to continue lawmaker’s commitment to gun safety.
Jauregui, who survived the shooting, sponsored the legislation and lead the charge to restore power to local governments.
“This isn’t an anti-gun bill,” she said during AB291’s first hearing. “I’m not an anti-gun legislator, and this isn’t a partisan issue. I’m married to a Republican and we own guns and we believe that better gun laws make us better gun owners.”
Opponents of the bill said allowing local governments power over gun regulations infringed on their Second Amendment rights, and argued repealing the preemption provisions was a step backward.
After the contentious hearing, Jauregui added an amendment to the bill that would allow the state to maintain authority over local governments, but also gave county commissioners the power to enact ordinances if they are more stringent than state law.
State preemption laws aren’t new or even confined to Nevada. Heyne said those laws, usually crafted in secret, have been proposed or enacted in multiple states.
“But Nevada has a unique opportunity to do something about it,” he said.