Proposal seeks to close ‘ghost gun’ loophole, criminalize guns on private property

ghost guns
Photos from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives showing Nevada-based Polymer 80's "ghost guns" being sold at a gun show. (Included in legislative presentation by Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.)

Hoping to send a message to the world that Las Vegas is safe, one of the biggest players in the resort industry is asking lawmakers to strengthen existing laws surrounding private businesses that choose to ban firearms on their premises.

Assembly Bill 286 received its first hearing in the Assembly Judiciary committee Wednesday. The bill also targets unregulated firearms that skirt federal law by being sold as part of DIY assembly kits.

The proposed legislation continues gun-reform efforts made by Democratic lawmakers in 2019. That year, the Legislature passed laws to expand background checks, ban bump stocks, establish gun storage requirements and allow courts to order the removal of guns from people deemed a risk to themselves or others.

Strengthening trespass laws

Private businesses already have the ability to ban firearms on their premises. Many do, under threat of trespass.

AB 286 would “give teeth” to these existing laws by assigning criminal penalties — ranging from a misdemeanor to a category E felony — to people who violate a business’s firearm ban. Exceptions are carved out for law enforcement, people attending firearm shows and anyone who has written permission from the business owner to carry.

“In a post-covid world, we know we need to show visitors and residents alike that we are a place where you can forget about your problems, not come to find more,” said Las Vegas Democratic Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui. “We know we need every selling point we can get to get our tourism back economy on track.”

MGM Resorts International executive John McManus, who presented the bill with Jauregui, referenced last year’s uptick in crime on the Strip.

“We saw what happened this summer when we had certain parts of the criminal element deciding that the Strip was a good place to hang out when everything else was closed,” said McManus, adding that they were bringing weapons freely. “Really all we can do is ask them to leave. Then, they come back the next day or later the same night. There’s not much that can be done.”

Adding a criminal element would allow law enforcement to better intervene, he argued. It might also make some people think twice about bringing their weapon in the first place.

“The language is not intended to prevent any specific incident on the Strip, but rather to prevent the emergence of a culture that invites violence on the Strip,” said McManus. “It is essential that we signal to our customers all over the world that Las Vegas is the safest place to be.”

Among the multiple properties MGM Resorts owns is Mandalay Bay, where in 2017 a gunman brought a small arsenal of weapons into a suite on the 31st floor and sent a barrage of bullets down into a country music festival across the street, killing 58 and injuring hundreds more.

Assemblywoman Jauregui attended that festival but escaped without physical injury.

AB 286 drew several questions about logistics, such as how a gun owner might obtain written permission to carry on a private property where firearms are otherwise banned, or how a casino might deal with a tourist who didn’t realize they weren’t allowed to keep a gun with them. (McManus responded that resorts already deal with that issue and would continue to.)

Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R-Minden) asked whether businesses who ban guns on their property will have liability protections or be required to provide security “when people can no longer protect themselves.”

“We’ve seen so many times before where concealed weapon holders (and law enforcement officers) have been able to protect themselves when a bad guy with a gun comes in,” he said.

McManus, who serves as general counsel for MGM Resorts, said common law has already established what duties business owners have to keep people safe.

“I don’t see that changing here,” he added. “It’s a matter of what’s reasonably foreseeable under the circumstances, and I suspect, at least in a casino environment, any casino that chooses to opt in will already have extensive security plans and provisions for that sort of thing.”

Jauregui pushed back on the suggestion that having a gun equates to safety. She pointed to a shooting last week where a Wynn employee shot and killed an armed security guard before dying by suicide.

Wynn Resorts testified in support of the bill, as did the Culinary Workers union.

When is a gun not a gun?

Assembly Bill 286 also targets firearms made from assembly kits, which skirt federal law by being manufactured to just below the point of being considered a firearm by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Unfinished firearm receivers or frames (called “80% receivers”) are sold by companies in kits with detailed assembly instructions and all the accessories needed to put together the fully functional firearm.

Because the kits are unfinished and therefore not regulated by the ATF, the buyers aren’t subject to background checks and the guns aren’t serialized. This has earned these types of guns the moniker “ghost guns.”

“We don’t truly know how many ghost guns are out there,” David Pucino, a senior staffer at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told lawmakers. “They’re easy to obtain and untraceable.”

Pucino called ghost guns “the fastest rising threat to gun safety.”

In 2019, ghost guns accounted for 40% of firearms recovered by the Los Angeles Police Department and 30% of firearms recovered by ATF California. Both of those figures were up from 0% at the turn of the millennium.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which testified neutral on the bill, did not have data on the prevalence of ghost guns in its jurisdiction.

Nevada would not be the first state to pass ghost gun legislation. California, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are among the states and municipalities that have already begun taking action.

AB 286 would prohibit a person from “possessing, selling, offering to sell, transferring, purchasing, transporting or receiving a firearm that is not imprinted with a serial number issued by a firearms importer or manufacturer.”

The proposed bill wouldn’t just affect buyers. Nevada is also home to a major manufacturer of gun assembly kits.

Dayton-based Polymer80 was raided by ATF in December and sued by the LAPD in February. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, LAPD last year recovered 700 ghost guns made with Polymer80 parts.

Wheeler represents the district where Polymer80 is located. During the committee hearing, he questioned why the state needed to take action on something regulated at the federal level.

“It would be better if this was addressed on the federal level,” replied Steve Lindley of the Brady Campaign & Center to Prevent Gun Violence, who gave lawmakers a presentation on ghost guns. “ATF has the ability to deal with this through the regulatory process, but right now that is not taking place, so states, counties (and) cities are addressing this individually.”

To which Wheeler responded: “So we’re going to drive a company in my district out of business, and we’ll just be able to buy them from Kentucky.”

April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April currently serves on the board of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and three mutts.