Monday, October 19, 2015

Las Vegas Library Violates Preemption Over Open Carry

A Las Vegas citizen carrier was approached asked to leave the Spring Valley Library Saturday because he was legally openly carrying his holstered handgun. State law allows openly carried firearms in most public buildings and prohibits local authorities from making their own firearm laws and rules. This is known as state preemption.

UPDATE: The library district's general counsel has informed a citizen that he does not intent to encourage the district to comply with state preemption, but instead fully expects to be sued. It's clear that the library district wants to infringe upon your rights as well as cost taxpayers money for their bad behavior. Visit the Nevada Carry Facebook page to see what you can do to take action.

Library patron Joah regularly visits the Spring Valley Library, always while openly carrying his pistol. Saturday was no different. He was browsing in the movie section when he observed the armed security guard walk by. Shortly thereafter, both the armed and unarmed security guard, after observing him for a few moments, approached Joah. They asked him if he was ‘law enforcement.’ He replied that he was not.

The security guard then asked if Joah could conceal his firearm. Joah informed the security guard that he could not do so, as he did not have a concealed firearm permit and that, as the library is a public building and posted pursuant to NRS 202.3673, it would be illegal for him to do so. The security guard replied “Oh really,” clearly unaware that he had requested that Joah commit a felony and a misdemeanor. The guards left.

Joah continued to browse for 15-20 minutes without incident. He was not approached by staff during that time, nor did he notice any sort of disturbance in the library or any frightened patrons. At check out, he was approached by the assistant manager, Leah, who pointed towards the front door (at the ‘no guns’ sign) and informed him that he could not carry his pistol at the library.

Joah explained that state law prohibits local authorities from making their own firearm restrictions and that only concealed carry (not open carry) is prohibited in the library. A short disagreement ensued. Joah attempted to show Leah the preemption statutes on NevadaCarry.org, but she refused. Joah said “It shouldn’t be an argument. I’m not trying to argue with you, I’m just trying to get you to see what you’re doing is wrong and goes against what the law states.” Only then did she reluctantly and briefly glance at the statutes on his phone.

Leah then produced a print-out of an email from “her director” that stated to the effect that libraries were exempt from the law (see below) and that she would not discuss it any further. She told him that he would not be allowed to be in there with ‘it’ (his gun) and he needed to return his items when due unarmed. He replied “I don’t leave my house unarmed; if I come back I’ll be armed.”

Leah told him that “They [library staff] will have to handle it at that time.” Joah left the library without further incident.

Joah is an exceptionally polite and articulate person. He carries a handgun for self-defense almost everywhere and has done so for the past two years. He is actively pursuing his concealed firearm permit. He carries openly partly to inform people that open carry is okay and that “good guys, just regular people, carry guns too.”

I asked Joah if he felt the rule against firearms is reasonable. “No, I don’t think that it’s reasonable at all pretty much anywhere except a prison. No one panicked, no one got scared. I’ve never had any problem at all carrying my gun at the library. No issues whatsoever.”

I spoke with the assistant manger Leah shortly after the incident occurred and she declined to comment on the incident or library policy, referring me to the district’s public affairs spokesperson. Comment is pending from the library district.

Other incidents have occurred this year at other Las Vegas libraries. Prior issues usually stemmed from a misunderstanding of NRS 202.3673, which specifically prohibits concealed firearms (further discussion below). Library staff’s reactions vary from location to location in Clark County. Some libraries have had no reported issues, while some misunderstandings have been straightened out with patient and friendly dialogue. Others have report situations similar to Joah’s.

On Election Day 2014, there was a man with a gun reported to Henderson Police at the Green Valley Library (part of the Henderson Library District). No one with a firearm was present and it apparently was a mistaken observation.

Sign at Spring Valley Library's door


Library Rules

In numerous encounters and communications, library district employees and administrators have made it abundantly clear that they do not want firearms in the library and have twisted their interpretation of the law to suit their agenda. This has occurred earlier in Clark County with the park system.

Interestingly, the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District prohibits only concealed firearms in all its facilities without distinction, as per its Rules of Conduct: “Firearms are prohibited as outlined in NRS 202.3673.” That section specifically prohibits only concealed firearms when signs or metal detectors are present at each public entrance. Signs are present at the Spring Valley Library’s front door.

Open carry is not banned by law or by policy. At the state level, a question regarding open carry of firearms in public buildings came up during the legislative session. The Legislative Counsel Bureau investigated and found that open carry is not banned in public buildings. It is important to note that none of the legislators took any action to ban open carry in public buildings.

Now if the concealed firearm ban is extended by library interpretation of their policy or the actions of the district’s employees, the district is then in de facto violation of the state preemption laws. Additionally, library officials have variously cited NRS 379.040 and NRS 379.120 which gives library authorities (the board, in this case) the power to make “reasonable rules and regulations.”

A rule in violation of state law is on its face illegal and undoubtedly cannot be construed as “reasonable.” In fact, only the state legislature can regulate firearms:

(b) The regulation of [...] carrying [...] registration [...] of firearms [...] in this State and the ability to define such terms is within the exclusive domain of the Legislature, and any other law, regulation, rule or ordinance to the contrary is null and void. (NRS 244.364 from SB 175).

Since the library district in question is a joint district, both the county and city (NRS 268.214) preemption laws would apply. The laws leave no doubt at all that a public library can make its own rules regarding firearms. Section (c) of the preemption section states that it “must be liberally construed to effectuate its purpose,” which is “to ensure that [firearm] regulation and policies are uniform throughout this State and to ensure the protection of the right to keep and bear arms […].”

Mario Aguilar, Assistant Library Operations Director, said this in June regarding the state preemption laws:

"The information from the recent bills is being reviewed by the District’s legal counsel and management team. Currently, library policy bans bringing firearms into our buildings in order to protect the health and safety of our patrons. We are evaluating the changes in the law, which are expected to become effective 10/01/15, and you may not bring your firearm into the building until such evaluation is complete."

The provisions went into effect the afternoon of June 2, 2015, when SB 175 and SB 240 were signed by Gov. Sandoval. October was deadline to repeal conflicting rules without having to face enhanced civil penalties. Even prior to June 2, state law was clear in its intent that libraries could not prohibit firearms. I also sent emails to the library district in June requesting comment from the library district on the bills, but received a reply simply stating that they were being reviewed by counsel.

Statewide

Library regulations on firearms is a patchwork across the state, with few of the rural libraries having any known policies, while the urban library districts tend to prohibit them. The Henderson Library District has a generic “no weapons” prohibition, which does not appear to be actively enforced, though their signage is out of compliance.

The Washoe County Library System’s Conduct Policy (which includes Reno) has no such prohibition, only requiring that library users must comply with applicable laws.

The Carson City library has a prohibition against “bringing a weapon into the library.” Their policy manual states:

“Except for weapons carried by active or honorably retired Nevada peace officers,
firearms and other dangerous weapons or bombs are not allowed on the library
premises unless written permission has been given by the Library Director.

The Library Director will arrange for a sign at each public entrance indicating that no
firearms or other weapons are allowed in the building. (NRS 202.3673)”

Part of the discrepancy and misunderstanding in laws comes from the rather schizophrenic nature of changes to NRS 202.3673 over time.

Discrepancies

In 1995, NRS 202.3673 was enacted, prohibiting firearms in virtually any public building. This was the same year and part of the same bill (SB 299) that made Nevada into a ‘shall issue’ state for concealed firearm permits. Prior to 1995, Nevada had no law prohibiting firearms in public buildings (apart from schools), concealed or otherwise. Additionally, Nevada has never had a law regarding openly carried firearms in any fashion.

It was then liberalized in 1999; that with very few exceptions, anyone with a concealed firearm permit could carry a concealed firearm in a government building. A further article will follow with more details on the history of the changes, but a state legislator correctly pointed out that signs do little to deter criminals, disarm the law abiding, and that all but a very small handful of mass shootings in the US since 1950 occurred in ‘gun-free’ zones. Out of concern for citizens who were disarmed by this law, the restriction was changed to allow firearms in most public buildings.

In 2007, the current law was passed which makes the prohibition applicable to concealed firearms in any building that has signs or metal detectors at each public entrance.

It is likely that many local authorities are still operating under the understanding of the 1995-1999 law that all firearms are off limits. Also, since openly carried firearms are totally ignored by Nevada law, the law (and the authorities) assumes that no one is going to open carry in a public building. It’s been 15 years since the law was changed; it’s about time that the authorities get it straight.

Perhaps if the signage was clarified (or removed) and the misconception that firearms are and should be prohibited in libraries as well as other public buildings, such alleged ‘violations’ would not lead to gun scares.

Guns in the Library?

Many are no doubt asking, “Why do you need a gun at the library?” To most people, the idea of books and guns is as incongruous as putting chocolate syrup on a TV set, but only at first glance. To a citizen carrier, the question is “Why can’t I have my gun here if I can have it pretty much everywhere else? What makes the library ‘different’?” Indeed, there is nothing inherent in a library to distinguish it from a quiet bookstore when it comes to firearms.

The concern from the libraries’ perspective seems to be largely about comfort and feelings, not about safety or fact. Mary Beth Chappell Lyles wrote:

"Most people do not associate libraries with weapons, guns, or violent conflict. People perceive libraries, whether right or wrong, as safe, inherently peaceful, and often quiet places. In the case of public libraries, the added expectation exists that the space is a resource available for everyone’s benefit. It is a unique conception of space, perhaps only rivaled by that of houses of worship."

"A 'no guns' policy, which, granted, might not effectively stop an armed assailant in the vein of the Santa Monica shooter (absent a metal detector or X-ray machine) but would prevent adverse reactions to casually carried firearms, might seem like a common sense measure for a library to enact in the cause of patron comfort.”

"Diana Gleason, head of public services at the University of Idaho College of Law Library in Moscow, 'People may feel better in some states to have guns in their libraries,' says Gleason. Pro-gun rallies at the Baldwin Public Library in Birmingham, Michigan, this past summer and Richmond (Va.) Public Library in 2012 show how some see the presence of guns as a deterrent to violence.” (source)

Gleason doesn't support firearms in libraries. She views them intimidating. “I would think, as a matter of policy, that it would be important to librarians and to patrons to be in a place where you can pursue your First Amendment right of intellectual freedom in a safe and nonthreatening manner."
Executive Director of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District said in a letter "The same fears and concerns regarding carrying concealed weapons are heightened for individuals who do not have concealed weapons permits and are carrying unconcealed weapons into libraries." The National Review called this fear of legally carried firearms “magical thinking” and the phrase can be extended to the idea of the library as a holy place, free from the common dangers of daily life.

In Seattle, the prohibition issue came to a head after a citizen began to complain. The City Attorney could not justify the ban given Washington’s state preemption laws and as a result, the city dropped the ban. One children’s librarian expressed her frustration thusly:

“We MUST strive to keep guns out of our very trusted, and very public space. Because of our public nature, we are prime targets for random violence. No amount of ‘training’ will be able to keep staff and patrons safe, if anyone can come in with a hidden gun.”

Unfortunately, this librarian is foolish enough to think that someone intent on murdering children will be deterred from their massacre by a rule against guns in the library. Laws and rules do not prevent crimes or violence; they merely provide for punishment. In the article, the hysteria of the library employees is ultra-clear, which is based on a flawed belief that laws prevent crime and the grotesque misconception that legal gun owners are prone to violence.

The contrary is true and concealed firearm permit holders are among the most law abiding. Many Nevadans who carry openly hold or eventually receive concealed firearm permits. The head of the Seattle librarian union, acknowledged this, stating: “‘Librarians were initially worried for their own safety and for that of the public,’ Cisney said. ‘It’s not so much even that people felt that a gun owner coming into the library would cause a problem, because the vast majority of gun owners are calm, law abiding people.”

The Gun Free Zone Myth

‘Gun-free zones’ do not prevent shootings anymore than arbitrarily declaring a section of Yellowstone forest a ‘bear free zone’ and expecting bears to stay out. Posting of a sign at the library will only disarm law-abiding citizens and would not deter anyone bent on committing violence inside. For instance, Connecticut law prohibited firearms in schools, yet the Sandy Hook massacre still occurred.

"Economists John Lott and William Landes conducted a groundbreaking study in 1999, and found that a common theme of mass shootings is that they occur in places where guns are banned and killers know everyone will be unarmed, such as shopping malls and schools.

"Lott offers a final damning statistic: 'With just one single exception, the attack on congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2011, every public shooting since at least 1950 in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry guns.'" (source)

While there was an armed security guard present at the library (openly carrying his firearm), many libraries are without such security and a citizen should not be disarmed and defenseless because of a bad policy or irrational fears of library staff. Instead, education is the key. Library staff, despite their biases, can be taught that open carriers are not to be feared and that firearms are not inherently evil.

Conclusion

I hold a BA in English literature, am a published author, a blogger/journalist, have patronized libraries since I could read at age 6, and have even volunteered as a library page in my teens. Does my exercise of the Second Amendment disqualify me from pursuing my First Amendment rights in the library?

Libraries are staunchly committed to preserving the First Amendment rights to free speech, press, and expression without compromise. Most librarians would resist giving even an inch to censorship. When it comes to other rights, librarians are more than willing to infringe upon them.


Libraries have thus far dug their feet in and supported their mindless prohibition. There is no safety issue that a legally owned holstered handgun presents to the library. There is no epidemic of citizens leaving their guns in the stacks or on the reading room tables. The only issue is the incorrect perception of danger and biased view of firearms held by library staff and administration. One way or another, the library district’s illegal actions have to stop.

-G. C.

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