Editor's Note: This article deals largely with NRS 202.3673. For a general overview of firearms in public buildings, follow this link to NevadaCarry.org
NRS 202.3673, a law which prohibits concealed firearm permitted from possessing firearms in certain buildings, is a confusing law at first glance. It has not been helped by a multitude of changes since its creation in 1995. Despite common misunderstandings by the public and government alike, the law does not prohibit openly carried firearms in public buildings.
The law currently prohibits firearms in public buildings with signs or metal detectors at each public entrance, at airports, and schools, colleges/universities, and childcare facilities (the latter having their own law, NRS 202.265). Openly carried firearms are not prohibited in most state and local public buildings. In fact, it seems to be the unwritten understanding that open carry cannot be strictly regulated as it is the constitutionally protected form of carrying arms. Rather than an oversight or a loophole, this is deliberate obedience to the constitutional right to bear arms, recognized not only by Nevada, but by most states.
In 2015, the legislature faced this question and the legality of open carry was affirmed by the Legislative Counsel Bureau. It is important to note that the legislators, neither Republican or Democrat, moved to enact a ban, but rather chose to repeal and prohibit local firearm regulations with SB 175/240. They understand that constitutionally, they do not have the ability to legislate on that matter.
An Idaho case, Re: Brickey, threw out a city ordinance that banned the carrying of any deadly weapon in any manner, openly or concealed. The state Supreme Court found that this was unconstitutional, in light of Idaho’s constitution, which explicitly authorizes the regulation of carrying concealed weapons only.
Nevada has never had a law prohibiting openly carried firearms anywhere or within public buildings. The only blanket provision under state law is NRS 202.265, which applies to school grounds, and meetings of the legislature, NRS 218A.905. Prior to 1995, NRS 202.3673, firearms in public buildings, did not exist within the statutes. As far as research indicates, there was no prior law on the topic.
Before 1995, Nevada was a may issue state for concealed firearm permits, at the sole discretion of the sheriff to issue or not. Open carry was the only method available to the public at large in some counties. In 1995, Nevada became a shall issue state and a perceived need to regulate firearms in public buildings was felt, leading to the establishment of 202.3673. Interestingly, 202.3673 only prohibits firearms in public buildings by concealed firearm permittee. For someone to conceal without a permit, it would be a felony violation of NRS 202.350, but not of 202.3673.
The 1995 amendment banned concealed firearms in virtually every type of public building (SB 299). In 1997, the law made a minor change: "must" to "shall" (AB 141). Then, in 1999, the law changed to only locations with signs and metal detectors at each public entrance, plus airports, schools, and colleges (AB 166). This change stood until 2007. In 2007, the current iteration of the law was enacted pursuant to SB 354, which also affected NRS 202.265 which bans firearms at schools. a provision was added to cover childcare centers after an unprofessional bounty hunter raided a daycare and scared the children.
Part of the incorrect signage and the confusion in institutional memory can be blamed on the changes to the law over the years coupled with a misunderstanding that open carry is indeed legal and that people do actually carry that way. While many ill-informed government employees have had ‘no guns’ signs posted and many stating a total prohibition remain, other government agencies, most notably the DMV, have changed their policies, educated staff and security, and have signs correctly stating that only concealed firearms are prohibited.
|William Russell, ca. 1890s|
For a long time, well up until the mid-20th Century, concealed carry was considered dishonest and something only criminals did. Many laws prohibited concealed carry because of its association with criminals, which carries over in one form of regulation or another to many states. Researching original textual examples of this bias is not complete, but many examples from newspapers and literature of nearly more than a century old malign concealed carry.
Perhaps as modern communications and law enforcement developed, a larger population led to a decrease in the ‘Wild West’ myths. People felt safer and didn’t feel a need to be armed. Guns, not just concealed pistols, were seen as something bad. Instead of being a form of protection, as a majority of Americans seem them today, carrying a gun was seen as outdated, paranoid, or criminal. It wasn’t until the shall issue wave of the 1990s that opinions began to change and concealed firearm permits became popular. Open carry naturally declined as people simply didn’t want others to know they were carrying guns, as if someone was going to judge them for it or be treated differently. In fact, that’s one of the reason most people choose not to openly carry a firearm.
Even so, open carry has been popular in the western states and Nevada. Even California has rural open carry and had loaded open carry until a few years ago. Many native Nevadans have been openly carrying firearms since they were teenagers here even in North Las Vegas without once having an issue.
In other states, the laws vary, but in the majority of the nine states as part of our sister site, Frontier Carry, you find that open carry is often protected and relatively unregulated. The western states were very similar, all on the expanding American frontier and facing the same set of challenges common to anyone who has watched a western. All entered the union as either states or territories in the same general period of time. Since the similarities between states were so many, many constitutional and statutory provisions are the same, sometimes word for word, and the considerations behind them are built on the same foundations of logic.
Only Arizona, Colorado, and Montana allow local control over openly carried firearms in most public buildings or areas, while Washington has a few more prohibited locations, but is largely unregulated. Seattle had to end its challenge to guns in their libraries because of the strictness of Washington’s state preemption law which also ended a ban on guns in local parks.
Utah has the fewest prohibited areas, apparently in the union. Utah law allows for concealed or open carry, with a permit, in virtually every place save for courthouses and detention-type facilities, including schools and universities/colleges. Utah and Arizona (where local governments can ban guns in public buildings) require secure storage at public buildings where guns are prohibited. Wyoming only bans openly carried firearms in public buildings or the state capitol.
Idaho, Nevada, and New Mexico, have essentially similar laws and outright bans of local regulation on open carry. Further afield and in a similar vein, Michigan has a similar preemption law, which lead to an overturn of the Lansing Capitol Area Library District’s ban on firearms.
Interestingly, Colorado is a reverse of most frontier states and allows for municipalities to ban open carry, but not concealed carry, except in public buildings with security screening and metal detectors. Last year, the Denver Science Museum had to change its policy banning concealed firearms because it lacked metal detectors and security screening as required by law. Denver, under questionable state Supreme Court rulings, bans open carry wholesale, the only municipality to do so.
However, because of the different attitudes and experiences, one finds interesting results between open carry (which cannot be strictly regulated) and concealed carry. For instance in Montana, one can openly carry a gun into a bank, but it is illegal to carry a concealed firearm into the bank, even with a permit. That leads to a lot of misunderstandings because businesses don’t know the laws and police are under-educated on the legality of open carry.
Changes Need to End Abuses
The purpose of this article is not to detail the abuses of the right to bear arms by public agencies. However, the lack of understanding about the armed public and the need for effective self-defense bears addressing. An outdated understanding of concealed carry and the propensities of legally armed citizens should not be permitted to be part of state law. Nor should rogue government employees with connections in Carson City or the court system be allowed to further trample citizen’s gun rights because citizens took a stand against their petty tyranny.
Under Nevada law, NRS 202.3673 does not prohibit openly carried firearms inside jails, police stations, prisons, or courthouses, though it would ostensibly be legal to prohibit firearms in controlled, non-public areas except by authorized personnel. One can even legally openly carry a gun into a courthouse, although without a doubt, security or the bailiffs will stop the person anyway (and they have). While the courts’ position is justified, why must they disobey the laws they enforce in the same building?
The only argument that can be made to prohibit legally possessed firearms by law abiding citizens in certain locations are based upon actual, verifiable threats, or a past history, of violence coupled with the real means to stop a violent attacker (armed security). Examples would be courthouses, jails, prisons, mental hospitals, and high-value terrorist targets like the Hoover Dam. All feature armed security and/or police and have security screening. Such locations should be mandated to provide secure storage for firearms. Utah is a successful example of this.
Actual need and means to ensure public safety are the only grounds for ever banning someone who can legally carry a gun from doing so and thus protecting themselves. This is a fair balance between a legitimate need to keep guns out of the hands of someone plotting violence while respecting both the right to keep and bear arms, while not abusing the logic of the law.
A public building is not some inherently safe space where violence will not happen and legal gun owners do not, as a general rule, present a danger for carrying guns. Examples from private property similar to public buildings show there is no real danger from an armed citizenry. No one, having completed jury duty or filing a restraining order, should have to walk through downtown Las Vegas back to their car parked at the city garage on Fremont Street unarmed if they choose not to, simply because security will not permit open carry or provide safe storage.
Neither should a concealed firearm, carried legally, be treated differently than open carry. American’s attitudes on concealed carry have changed. Concealed carry is the preferred method of carry and is no longer associated with criminality. A criminal will carry a concealed weapon without a permit or into a public building regardless of any law. Mothers, fathers, and good citizens should not be disarmed simply because a public agency disagrees with that person’s chosen method of carry.
Rather than attempt to outright ban firearms in public buildings, which would be wholly unconstitutional on a state and federal basis, NRS 202.3673 should be amended to prohibit firearms in only courthouses, mental institutions, and the non-public, controlled areas of jails and prisons. Additionally, safe storage lockers or a ‘gun check’ should be mandated at the entrance to all such locations.
SB 299, 1995
NRS 202.3673 was enacted in 1995 with the passage of SB 299, Nevada’s shall issue concealed carry law. While the record leaves little to no mention, the second reprint of the bill shows that it was amended to incorporate 202.3673’s prohibition on carrying concealed firearms in public buildings. Later testimony indicates there was some concern that licensed and background checked citizens would create some sort of heightened threat of violence, which over 20 years of experience has shown to be false.
Apparently, open carry, which was the method available to any Nevadan who could possess a firearm, was not a worrisome concern for the legislature at the time, so there was no prohibition of it. Many of the legislators were life-long Nevadans and many from rural areas, so even if they hadn’t experienced open carry first hand, it was mentioned in the hearings.
"Mr. Hertz [Chairman, Douglas County Chapter of American Pistol & Rifle Association] stated he believed there were sheriffs in Douglas and other counties '...who are denying an application based on the constitution which gives the people the right to carry a gun openly.'" (SB 299, 4/21/95 Sen. Jud. Com.)
The NRA representative at the time stated the organization’s then-current stance on open carry:
“Mr. Griisser responded it is the society we live in today. If a gun is carried on your hip walking down the streets of Las Vegas or Reno, any city, there would be undue stigma attached. Mr. Griisser stated this may be the West, but it certainly is not the wild West. Mr. Griisser noted he lived in Phoenix and if he were to carry open there, the gang bangers would try to provoke an incident. Mr. Goldwater surmised the deterrent effect is enhanced by having a concealed weapon, but it is exacerbated when it is out in the open.” (6/22/95 Asm. Jud. Com)
Clearly, there was no concern about a person who openly displayed to the public that they were armed, just as there was not in 2015.
AB 166, 1999 (added “signs or metal detectors” language)
From the Assembly Judiciary Committee, 2/26/99
“[Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick] The intent of the existing language was to make those buildings safer and he argued the opposite was true. He noted statistics proved permittees were not the source of firearm related violence in public buildings. He opined the language increased the risk of crime in a public building because most criminals would not go to a private business or home where there might be a person proficient in the use of firearms. A criminal would most likely go to a public building where, by existing state law, you would be guaranteed a person was not carrying a weapon and that did not make sense to him.
“Mr. Hettrick thought, since statistics proved most CCW permittees were not a safety issue, most building administrators would add metal detectors or post signs so it would extend the deterrent and safety factor of CCWP law to public buildings, and he believed it should. He addressed those public entities who felt the provision would require them to post signs on all their buildings, and reminded them national statistics proved their buildings would be safer if they allowed legal permittees to carry. He stressed the only people who would not obey the law would be people who carried illegally. Mr. Hettrick indicated if metal detectors or signs were used, by adding the option in subsection (b), section 5, regarding obtaining written permission, a deterrent was added because a potential criminal going into a public building would not know if a person had permission to carry inside the building. Adding the right of permission extended metal detectors and posted signs as right of protection.”
The airports amendment was proposed by Clark County Airports.
“Assemblyman Hettrick noted that just like any public building, except for the [terminals], which are federally regulated, […]. He said a review of the statistics shows a public building is safer when CCWP is allowed. He expressed concern that if exemptions are made, it could get out of hand. He said the statistics on 30 states that have CCWP show only 4 states have restrictions on airports; the rest of the airports are open public buildings. Assemblyman Hettrick emphasized he did not see a need to exempt airports. He suggested the people on the aviation board need to see the statistics, and then they would realize the airport would be safer if CCWP were allowed, not more dangerous.
“Ivan R. Ashleman, II, Lobbyist, McCarran International Airport, and Clark County, stated the crowds at the airports look like a mob scene, it makes it difficult to post signs that will be seen, let alone read. He said for example, the numerous large ‘Stand to the Right’ signs posted along the people walkways, plus constant public address announcements, and people are still all over the walkways; the general public pays no attention. He stressed that is why the aviation board believes the signs prohibiting CCWP will be ineffective; and if they are boarding a flight, they will have to surrender the firearm anyway.
“Senator Care commented he has lived in Las Vegas since 1979 and cannot recall any incident at McCarran International Airport that involved a firearm. Mr. Ashleman responded security routinely takes firearms from people at the gates, as well as other types of weapons. He noted the airport has a lot of security and does not experience a lot of crime problems.
“Chairman Washington wondered since statistically there is little problem at the airports, would it be better to allow the counties to deal with the CCWP and public buildings issue at the local level in placing signs and developing ordinances. Assemblyman Hettrick emphasized it could get out of hand to allow each county to establish ordinances [emphasis added]. […] He said what people seem to not understand is those who get a permit feel some need for personal safety. The permittee is not going to do anything to lose that permit, and that is why these public buildings are ultimately safer if the CCWP holders are allowed to go in and out of the buildings. He stressed this bill will do nothing to adversely affect safety in public buildings.
“Assemblyman Hettrick noted there is nothing in this bill that prevents the airport from putting up a sign right now. He said if the contention is nobody reads signs, then why bother with any signs. He called attention to the realization that legal people are honest people.”
SB 354, 2007
This bill was intended to strengthen the prohibition of firearms on school campuses by changing the violation from a gross misdemeanor to a felony. This was as a result of an increase of children bringing guns to school. Democratic Assemblywoman Debbie Smith was concerned over an incident with bounty hunters at a daycare. Her statement at a hearing of the Assembly Judiciary Committee:
“[…]I was contacted by a daycare provider who is a member of that organization regarding something that had taken place at her facility. She was very upset because some bounty hunters came into her facility with guns drawn, looking for someone. They were actually looking for the mother of one of the children being cared for, and the mother was not the person they were ultimately after, but they were trying to get some information. The daycare provider was dismayed to find that their actions were not illegal. It was a horrible thing that they endured over a significant period of time; it did not just take place in a few moments. I was surprised when I contacted our Research staff and found that child-care facilities are not in the statute as areas where guns cannot be carried.”
Why was this not dealt with at a regulatory level? All this law would have done is make it so the bounty hunters could have been arrested; it would not have corrected their poor judgement. Nor would it keep criminals from bringing guns into child care facilities. Rather, it disarms mom and dad who come to pick up their kids. Technically, they could be arrested for having a gun in the parking lot of their daycare. This was a terrifying incident to the staff and children for sure, and a monumental failure on the part of the bounty hunters, but not a reason to disarm citizens on private property. Once again, a Democrat over-reacted and legislators caved in ‘for the children.’