Tuesday, February 16, 2016

PUC Doubles Down on Illegal Open Carry Ban

The Nevada Public Utilities Commission once again illegally prevented the entry of a citizen openly carrying a handgun into the solar rate hearing on Friday, Feb. 12. This happened at the PUC’s facility at 9075 W. Diablo Dr., Las Vegas.

Last Monday, exactly three armed protesters at the Bring Back Solar rally frightened the PUC commissioners. General Counsel Lina Tanner called the exercise of Second Amendment rights “irresponsible behavior” despite no violent or overtly threatening acts.

On Friday, Metro police were present, as well as metal detection devices. NRS 202.3673 prohibits carrying a concealed firearm into a government building (or office) with signs or metal detectors at each entrance, but an openly carried firearm is not illegal.

The citizen reports that he was told by a private security guard that he could not enter because he was wearing a gun. He was directed to “go outside and read the sign on the door,” (pictured) and given the option to put his gun in his car and re-enter, but no guns would be allowed. The citizen did not want to push the issue and left. Unlike the government, most private citizens don’t have a team of well-funded lawyers to fight their battles.

While the citizen would have been legally in the right to continue through and attend the meeting anyway, it is foreseeable that he would have been arrested on a trumped-up charge. The PUC had a woman cited for trespassing simply because she wanted to film a past meeting. The PUC called it a disruption, which Assemblywoman Shelton disagreed with, and laughably twisted the law to say they were allowed to prohibit filming, as the meeting was not subject to the open meeting law.

A question exists whether or not a part of a private building, used for public purposes, can prohibit firearms. The PUC leases space in the privately owned building, owned by Tierra Partners III LLC, out of Yuma, AZ.

NRS 202.3673 defines a “public building” to include the PUC’s facility inside the private building. 
6. (b) “Public building” means any building or office space occupied by:
            (2) The Federal Government, the State of Nevada or any county, city, school district or other political subdivision of the State of Nevada and used for any public purpose.
            If only part of the building is occupied by an entity described in this subsection, the term means only that portion of the building which is so occupied. 
Per NRS 202.3673, openly carried firearms cannot be prohibited from the PUC’s facility within the private building. The issue gets a bit more gray when one asks if the owner of the private building can exclude certain persons (in this case open carriers) from his building.

A common-sense interpretation of the trespass law (NRS 207.200) indicates yes, an owner of private property can keep whoever they want off of their property for whatever reason. Complicating the factor is that the building is held open to the public for public (government) purposes. So the question should really be, can a private property owner deny entry to the public who are entering the private property for access to a public building?

Again, the law is murky, but apply common sense, the answer would be no. On the surface, using a trespassing law to keep citizens from attending a public meeting, held on private property, would be a violation of the First Amendment's right to peaceably assemble, especially if done at the behest of a public agency.

The open carrier in question was not entering “with intent to vex or annoy the owner or occupant thereof, or to commit any unlawful act,” but to participate in a public body’s hearing. Nor was there any intent to commit "any nuisance", "[interfere] with or [disturb] those peaceably assembled within the building," (NRS 206.140) or “willfully disturb” the hearing (NRS 203.090).

On the other hand, I’d argue that the PUC committed conspiracy to prevent someone entering a public meeting. NRS 241.020 requires “all meetings of public bodies must be open and public, and all persons must be permitted to attend any meeting of these public bodies.” That doesn’t say that someone legally carrying firearm can be prohibited from entering the meeting. Now, had the citizen tried to enter anyway and was arrested or physically prevented, he’d probably have a case to charge the offenders with the above.

No direct or indirect threat was ever made (unless the PUC is not disclosing something) against any public officials, at least from those legally openly carrying firearms. Chandler Sherman (solar protestor), told the LVRJ: "We have zero tolerance for unlawful conduct, and we have not observed or heard about any unlawful conduct inside or outside of the proceedings.” From statements to the press, the PUC officials are bothered by the public opposition to their actions and furthermore don’t like citizens who are legally armed. Oddly enough, at least one of the open carriers does so on a regular basis and the hearing/protest was not a special occasion he ‘tooled up’ for. This is a case of public officials, upset with public outcry, who are afraid of guns, throwing their weight around.

As I’m fond of saying, “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.” But no, not anymore. Nevadans are standing up to the corruption and abuse of our Second Amendment rights. No, we’re not fighting this battle with our guns, but our phones, pens, keyboards, and the occasional hand-made sign.

Comments from LVMPD, the PUC, as well as a Nevada Open Records Act pertaining to this matter are pending.

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