|Weathered sign at the W. Charleston Library|
About a dozen supports of open carry showed up to the Las Vegas- Clark County Library District board of trustees meeting on Thursday night. The library district has repeatedly and with no legal basis removed patrons legally openly carrying firearms. Six speakers, including Assemblywoman Shelly Shelton, spoke out against the district’s violation of state law protecting the legal open carry of firearms in the library.
Early arrivals reported seeing four LVMPD officers in the lobby who departed before the meeting began. A large number of library staff, including an unarmed security guard, were greeting attendees, pointedly asking at least one citizen if he was at the meeting “for open carry.” No one was armed at the meeting, which took place at the West Charleston Library.
At first glance, a firearm in a library would seem to be out of place. Among the tall, quiet stacks, violence seldom lurks. Most Americans picture a library as a sacred place of thought and firearms as having a place only on a shooting range. Many citizens choose not to disarm simply because they are entering a library, seeing nothing inherently safe in the usually serene setting. A library may be a statistically safe place, but the streets on the way to the library can be quite violent, which is why most who openly carry in the library carry to begin with.
‘Gun free’ zones are not havens from violence, as countless school shootings have shown. Disarming citizens who might otherwise protect themselves is not an answer to deranged mass murderers. Nearly every public, mass shooting since 1950 has occurred in a ‘gun free’ zone.
Openly carried firearms, once the mainstay of citizens armed for self-defense, have been making a comeback recently, growing in popularity almost as much as shall-issue concealed firearm permits. Citizens who carry firearms for self-defense do not wantonly unholster their firearms nor leave them lying around in public. There have been no reported accidental discharges of firearms in a library.
In fact, the only ‘incident’ of a firearm causing disruption in a local library was in April, when a man was falsely reported by a juvenile to have a gun at a polling place at the Green Valley Library. Details are sparse, but the man was found to be unarmed and there was no report of any suspicious or dangerous activity. It is believed to have been a hoax 911 call.
The district has shown itself recently to be no friend of the Second Amendment in the on-going saga to get them to stop harassing legally armed citizens in their libraries. What most don't know is that the library district has been actively banning open carry for the better part of this decade. Numerous incidents have occurred, many involving the threat of a trespassing arrest, over the years. Library staff have continually stonewalled requests to comply with state law.
Openly carried firearms not illegal
Openly carried firearms (generally in belt holsters) are not prohibited by law in public buildings. State law (NRS 202.3673) specifically prohibits only concealed firearms in public buildings. An opinion from the Legislative Counsel Bureau in this year’s legislative session confirmed this fact. Legislators took no action to ban openly carried firearms in public buildings.
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.
Librarians are known for being dedicated to freedom of speech who want to protect the free exchange of ideals. Their concern is that some patrons may feel a firearm to be intimidating and thus cause some to avoid the library. The library district has cited their duty to keep the library “free and accessible” to the public as the reason they choose to ban legally carried firearms, despite any reports of anyone being intimidated by an open carrier.
Library administration has cited NRS 379.040, stating that the library has the authority to make reasonable regulations. It also requires that a “library must forever be and remain free and accessible to the public […].” Denying access to a library based solely upon the fact a patron is legally openly carrying a firearm violates the law. Perversely, the district has quoted the second clause, “reasonable regulations [etc.],” to justify their ban and to deny free access to the library to those legally carrying firearms.
Also, the administration seems to be making its own rules, claiming NRS 379.040 gives them the power to make such a prohibition. The power to make regulations belongs solely to the board of trustees and not an employee. Again, there is no such district rule prohibiting openly carried firearms, though the unlawful practices would be in violation of state preemption.
State preemption of local firearm laws explicitly prohibits the district’s behavior. Vernon Brooks, a speaker at the meeting, said: “I don’t think the legislature could be more clear.” Having uniform gun laws statewide avoids a confusing patchwork that could potentially trap an otherwise law abiding citizen unintentionally. In fact, state law had to be amended to avoid such a trap Clark County had made.
The legislature made its intent to invalidate any local regulation of firearms, except unsafe discharge of firearms, and reserve all right of firearm regulation to itself. In no way can any local government body make any rule or ordinance prohibiting carry of firearms. All such laws, rules, and regulations were declared to be null and void.
NRS 244.364 (in part)
(a) The purpose of this section is to establish state control over the regulation of and policies concerning firearms [...] to ensure that such regulation and policies are uniform throughout this State and to ensure the protection of the right to keep and bear arms, which is recognized by the United States Constitution and the Nevada Constitution.
(b) The regulation of the [...] possession, carrying [...] 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.
(c) This section must be liberally construed to effectuate its purpose.
In June, Gov. Sandoval signed SB 175 and SB 240, which created the above section. This was also the law that struck down Clark County handgun registration ‘blue cards’. All local municipalities were required to repeal all local firearm laws (except unsafe discharge ordinances) and all have done so, except Clark County, whose commissioners belatedly repeated it after the October 1st deadline on October 20th.
Penalties in the twin senate bills created stiff civil penalties for violation and allow for up to treble damages for violation of state preemption laws.
The only known Nevada library that actively enforces this policy is the Las Vegas-Clark County district. In 2014, the Henderson Library District board of trustees addressed the same matter. This was brought about because of an incident the editor of Nevada Carry was personally involved in.
“The admin team and branch managers met with the library district’s attorney Brin Gibson about the open carry issue. The law allows for a person to openly carry a firearm [holstered] in the library, but it is against the law to carry a concealed weapon [even with a permit] in the library. (source)
The open carry supporters in attendance were very diverse, including mothers, fathers, and members of diverse ethnic communities. While under Nevada’s open meeting law prohibits the board from discussing topics presented in the open public comments period, six speakers addressed the board in support, none in dissent.
When speaker Vernon Brooks started off the public statements, many of the board members appeared annoyed at the mention of firearms. Many trustees adopted defensive postures and their demeanors varied from annoyed to openly hostile. Trustee Keiba Crear looked bored while Trustee Moulton appeared sour, as if her patience was being tested.
Trustee Sheila Moulton, when a trustee of the Clark County School District, supported gun-free zones and was against arming and training teachers to protect students.
"I’m not for putting guns in the classroom even when teachers are trained on how to use them,” she said in 2012.
Tony Shelton, husband and policy director of Assemblywoman Shelton, said that the West Charleston library was special to him because the particular library branch was one where he brought his daughter since she was a toddler.
“I can understand how those who are not used to seeing private citizens armed for the protection of their own families and other can be initially uncomfortable with that idea. The answer to that is education.; which is what libraries are all about. The fact is that we have over 300 million people in this country with all the senseless and premeditated murders over the decades not a single one can be attributed to a law-abiding open carrier.
“American’s have the God-given right to carry firearms for their safety and others around them. They should be admired qualities rather than be demonized. Second, fear cannot override the law. […] We are all bound by the same laws.”
“The fear is unfounded, and to give you an idea of the way it is unfounded, the way it looked out here with the extra police officers here, you guys expected Rambo to come in. The fact is some of these people here tonight are former military, former law enforcement, former police, former security, or even just responsible mothers and fathers. Many of them have openly carried firearms for years, from sunrise to sunset, without incident or interruption.
Following up was Assemblywoman Shelton herself, a co-sponsor of the state firearm preemption bills (SB 172 and SB 240).
“I have been receiving emails and phone calls from the very situations they have been talking about there have been people who have been open carrying in the libraries and they have been asked to leave. And when they try to educate the employees that they have the right to open carry in the library they’re threatened with arrest […]"
She asked the board to put the issue on their agenda. “But it doesn’t take that, it just takes you guys sending out a memo.”
Debra, a homeschooling mother, said it was important for homeschooling to come to the library. “Teaching our kids to protect themselves and having open carry is really, really important to us. I just want you to do what is right by us so that we can continue coming to the libraries to teach children.”
Final supporting speaker Jessica felt that parents should not be forced between reading with their children or protecting them.
“I came for support, especially for the women that open carry. A lot of us are mothers that have children who come to the library for the resources here. A lot of us want to be able to protect our families. We never know where crime is going to happen. We just want the opportunity to protect ourselves and our children.”
The seventh speaker of the night, Adelaide Chen, Data Editor from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, spoke on a completely different topic that incidentally touched on the same problem an open carry activist had when requesting public records.
Chen was advising the trustees of the district’s non-compliance with the Nevada Open Records Act, as the district refused to release which location branch employees worked at as part of research into public salaries. District spokeswoman Karen Bramwell-Thomas cited the information could not be released due to “safety concerns” despite the Clark County School District releasing the work location of its employees. State law does not protect the work location of employees from public record requests.
Chen said she has never had this kind of problem before. Bramwell-Thomas has created difficulty for open carry supporters attempting to request public records.
Many open carry supporters have stated that if the library continues to attempt to illegally eject them or has them arrested and trespassed, they will file suit. Unfortunately, the library district seems eager to be a willing defendant.
In a private conversation recounted on Facebook, a citizen reported a conversation with district counsel, Gerald Welt, wherein Mr. Welt stated he was aware of the state preemption law, but open carriers would still be kicked out and he expected the district to be sued. If these allegations are true, they are totally irresponsible. Taxpayers should not be forced to bear the burden of government officials’ malfeasance.
Mr. Shelton said: “I was in her office [Assemblywoman Shelton] when your representative came in [to the assemblywoman’s office] to ask for more funding for the library. I don’t remember excess of funds being available to deal with lawsuits that could potentially come […].”
The District, at this board’s direction, could easily remedy this situation by ordering staff to abide by state law. Staff could be properly educated with little more than a memo, thus avoiding frivolous expenditure of taxpayer dollars. In Michigan, which has firearm preemption laws similar to Nevada, an appeals court found in favor of open carriers after a local library district improperly tried to exclude citizens legally openly carrying firearms.
Note: The editor was a speaker at the board of trustees meeting. Editor can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org