Partisan divide portends doom for gun bills 

Lawmakers take to corners as Lombardo stays out of the ring  

By: - April 10, 2023 5:00 am

The bills heard in committee last week, like the handful of other gun measures sponsored by Democrats, have little chance of becoming law under Lombardo, who campaigned as a tough on crime sheriff. (Photo courtesy of Battle Born Progress)

Americans are fed up with the frequency of mass shootings, according to recent polls, especially the slaughter of children in their own classrooms. But are their lawmakers equally incensed? 

Before a word of testimony had been uttered Thursday on three bills championed by Democrats and intended to put a dent in gun violence, Assembly Republicans proclaimed in a news release they’ll unanimously reject two Assembly measures, stating they are “controversial bills scheduled on short notice at irregular times.” 

A spokesman for the Assembly Republicans did not respond to requests for an interview. 

“They’ve proven that it doesn’t matter what the legislation says or does – Nevada Republicans will always put the gun lobby over childrens’ safety,” the Nevada Democratic Party said in a statement. 

The measures heard in the joint hearing of the Senate and Assembly Justice committees are among the most aggressive gun law changes proposed by Democrats. The hearing is only the second time the Democratic-controlled Legislature has taken up gun regulation this session.  None of a handful of Republican-sponsored measures to ease current laws have been granted a hearing.     

Senate Bill 171, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Dallas Harris, would make it a gross misdemeanor for a person to possess a firearm if they’ve been convicted of committing or attempting to commit a hate crime in the last 10 years. 

“We are punishing people not only for the act of violence or whatever, we’re punishing them for thoughts that we find repugnant,” objected Republican Sen. Ira Hansen.   

“I guarantee you, sir, that if someone came and inflicted violence on your family because of your religious beliefs, you too, would be protected under this bill,” Harris responded to Hansen, a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints.  

Assembly Bill 354 would make it a gross misdemeanor to bring a gun to a voting site, and a felony if there’s an intent to disrupt an election. It also attempts to clarify definitions of terms in the state law that largely outlaws ghost guns – weapons assembled from parts that have no serial number and allow people prohibited from purchasing a gun to make their own. 

“Left-wing politicians are working hard to take away our right to create our own guns,” reads a passage from Lombardo’s campaign website last year. The position puts him at odds with law enforcement leaders throughout the U.S. 

Assembly Bill 355 makes it a crime for anyone under 21 to possess a semi-automatic rifle, and increases penalties for people who knowingly allow a child to handle a firearm. Current law allows 18-year-olds to purchase assault rifles and semi-automatic rifles, while buyers of handguns must be 21. 

Six of the nine deadliest mass shootings in the United States since 2018 were committed by shooters who were 21 or younger.

2023 firearm legislation

Assembly Bill 81 

Allows a person with a concealed weapon permit to possess a gun on Nevada System of Higher Education campuses, private or public schools, or child care facilities if the gun is in a vehicle or locked container attached to a vehicle.  Sponsor: Assemblyman Greg Hafen (R)

Assembly Bill 94 

Prohibits any local government from cooperating with the Federal government to enforce any federal law restricting or prohibiting the sale, purchase, transfer, manufacture or display of firearms, accessories and ammunition. Sponsor: Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R) 

Assembly Bill 181 

Allows an active police officer to forgo competence training required of concealed weapon permit holders.  Sponsors: Assemblyman Brian Hibbetts (R) and Assemblyman Toby Yurek (R)

Assembly Bill 354 

Prohibits possession of a firearm within 100 yards of the entrance of a voting location, except by security guards and authorized persons. The measure also revises the definition of the term “unfinished frame or receiver” applied to firearms. Sponsor: Assemblywoman Sandra Juaregui (D)

Assembly Bill 355 

Makes it a gross misdemeanor for a person under the age of 21 to possess or control a semi automatic shotgun or semi automatic centerfire rifle.  Sponsors: Assemblywoman Sandra Juaregui, Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D), and Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D)

Senate Bill 171 

Makes it a gross misdemeanor for a person convicted of committing or attempting to commit a hate crime in the last ten years to have a gun. Primary Sponsors: Sen. Dallas Harris (D), Sen. Pat Spearman(D), Sen. Fabian Donate (D)

Senate Bill 188 

Allows a person who has a permit to carry a concealed weapon to possess the weapon on the grounds of Nevada System of Higher Education facilities, unless the person is attending an event held at a sporting venue with a seating capacity of 1,000 or more. Sponsors: Senator Ira Hansen (R)  Senator Jeff Stone (R) Senator Carrie Buck (R) Senator Pete Goicoechea (R) Senator Lisa Krasner (R)

Senate Bill 367 

Allows prosecutors to charge multiple counts for weapons possessed by a felon prohibited from having firearms. Would also make some juvenile justice records available to authorities to determine whether a person is eligible to purchase or possess a firearm. Sponsor: Sen. Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D)

Senate Bill 294 

Makes it a misdemeanor to fail to safely secure a gun from a child. (An amendment has been offered to strip that provision.) Requires gun dealers to notify buyers of gun lock options. Requires school districts to draw up plans to fortify schools against shootings.  

Sponsor: Sen. Fabian Donate (D)

The measures are sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Sandra Juaregui, a survivor of the 2017 shooting massacre on the Las Vegas Strip, the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history, in which 61 people died and hundreds were injured.

Lombardo, sheriff of Clark County at the time of the shooting, has declined to comment on AB 355. Spokeswoman Elizabeth Ray says the governor will chime in on legislation “when we feel necessary.” 

The bills heard by the joint committee, like the handful of other gun measures sponsored by Democrats, have little chance of becoming law under Lombardo, who campaigned as a tough on crime sheriff. 

“The lives of Nevadans are not a bargaining chip and I’m confident that the governor wants to protect Americans just like we do,” Harris said, adding she has not talked to Lombardo. “We’re going to offer a couple of options that will do exactly that.” 

Before he was a candidate for governor, Lombardo supported restrictions on high capacity magazines. “I’m a very avid hunter, I was in the military myself, and there’s no need to have a high-capacity magazine for any practical reason,” Lombardo told the Las Vegas Sun in 2016, less than a year before the massacre on the Strip.  

But as a candidate, he said gun manufacturers know best. “Joe believes that gun manufacturers design magazine capacities appropriately to maximize safety,” his campaign website said. “Therefore, as governor, Joe would not sign any law restricting manufacturer limits on firearm magazines.” 

Promises, promises

Some of the governor’s campaign promises have yet to be kept.

As a candidate, Lombardo promised to “remove antiquated laws, including Nevada’s Red Flag law.” But as governor, Lombardo has made no attempt to eliminate the law. His spokeswoman would not say why.  

Red Flag laws allow police or family members to seek a protective order from a court preventing a person from having guns if they appear to be at a severe risk of harming themselves or others. The order lasts for seven days but can be extended to a year. 

The law has been used sparingly since Gov. Steve Sisolak signed it in 2019. Since 2020, courts throughout the state have notified the Nevada Department of Public Safety of 18 severe risk orders – four in 2020; four in 2021; six in 2022; and four so far in 2023.  

Nevada is not alone. The laws have been used infrequently in major metropolitan areas, according to news reports.

Juaregui said at a news conference Thursday she’s hopeful that American Rescue Plan money provided to the Attorney General will help “Nevadans become educated on the use” of the red flag laws. 

Lombardo also supported arming classroom teachers who receive adequate training, but   

his school safety measure makes no provision for doing so. In fact, the legislation includes no mention of school shootings.

Chief of Staff Ben Kieckhefer says Lombardo’s bill is designed to give “teachers the ability to control their own classrooms and do their jobs,” adding the administration is making appropriations to mental health funding to address gun violence.  

Nevada had 17 gun deaths per 100,000 population in 2022, up 25% from 2021, according to Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

‘Not really that big of a deal’

While many who commit gun crimes suffer from mental illness, it’s not always the case, and when it is, the extent is not always apparent to family members, co-workers, teachers, and gun dealers.  

Yet Republican lawmakers increasingly invoke mental illness and the decline of society’s mores as a reason not to pass gun legislation. The solution, they say, is more guns and fortifying schools.

Hansen, during a hearing Wednesday on a proposal to hold adults responsible for preventing youth access to firearms, took issue with the fact that guns are the number one cause of death among children in America, and attributed a spike in homicides to “Black inner-city kids who are involved in gang shootings. But I think that needs to be recognized, too, when you actually average it out and take those factors out. You see, there’s not really that big of a deal.”    

“We’re not going to fix it,” Rep. Tim Burch (R-TN) said of America’s gun violence epidemic shortly after the shooting at the Covenant School in Tennessee last month, in which a 28-year-old shooter killed three children and three adults. 

“Repenting of your sins and having some sort of reform in this country seems to me to be the way we’re going to have to turn this way around, because we have some sick and evil people doing some very vile things,” he said later. “Revival seems to be the way to go for me.”

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.