Nevada has a history of borrowing a lot of ideas from California, and not always good ones. In 1948, Clark County instituted the notorious ‘blue card’ system instituted in the hey-day of early Las Vegas was supposedly a measure to counter the influx of eastern gangsters. Know who has the guns, know who the crooks are, or so the thinking went. A quick visit to the Mob Museum in Downtown Las Vegas will quickly dispel that idea. The major cities of the county enacted their own handgun registration and concealed carry laws. North Las Vegas uniquely banned permit-less open carry and carrying a firearm in a vehicle, until finally forced to repeal those laws earlier this year.
June 2, 2015, Gov. Sandoval signed Senate Bills 175 and 240, which contained identical provisions regarding state preemption of firearm laws. While these laws already existed, this had the effect of immediately eliminating the ‘blue cards’ and forcing a few odd local laws to be repealed. News spread rapidly through Las Vegas and its suburbs that gun owners would finally have one less burden to gun ownership. Along with the ‘blue card’ ordinances, any local ordinance, rule, or regulation regarding firearms (except for the unsafe discharge) was declared null and void. The state legislature declared that only they had the power to make gun laws.
45 states have preemption laws on the books which generally prohibit local authorities—cities, towns, and counties—from making their own gun laws. Nevada’s is particularly tough, providing up to triple damages for local regulations out of compliance.
Preemption creates uniformity between counties, cities, and towns eliminating a confusing and hazardous—both legally and for personal safety safety—patchwork of laws. For instance, someone moving from Pahrump to Las Vegas might have unknowingly broken Clark County’s ordinance to register a handgun within 60 days of residency or within 72 hours of acquiring the gun. Along with various other laws or regulations, like Clark County Parks prohibition of guns in their parks and North Las Vegas’ law on the books that prohibited guns in cars, a law-abiding citizen might get caught up in a confusing web.
Rumors were another effect of Clark County’s laws. People repeated laws that weren’t enforced for years, yet things were so confusing, someone who didn’t take the time to understand the subject didn’t know what to think. Many were dissuaded from carrying at all. North Las Vegas has for years been the subject of many persistent and widespread rumors that open carry is illegal.
To make it worse, despite the presence of obsolete laws on the books, police enforced some laws anyway, despite existing preemption laws. Sadly, in North Las Vegas, this behavior continues sporadically even after enhanced preemption was enacted and the local laws repealed.
These laws gave huge latitude to unscrupulous officers over the years to harass citizens, justify profiling minorities, and confiscate legally owned guns under the pretense they were not registered.
Why was such a step necessary? It’s important we look at history. Over the years,
The exact way Clark County managed to get an exemption that preserved its handgun registration scheme, and at the time, most of its local carry laws, is shrouded in the research darkness of pre-internet days. An archived document of legislative evidence from the original 1989 preemption laws provides the best insight into those times, but phone calls and backroom conversations weren’t recorded to tell the whole tale.
In 1989, Undersheriff Cooper said that "Las Vegas was becoming a major city with major city problems, therefore, Las Vegas could not be compared to the remainder of the state." Sheriff Moran said: "[...] I think Las Vegas is a very unique city and requires gun regulations that would be impractical in rural areas. [...] Las Vegas is unlike any other city in the world. [...] but there comes a time when even I have to interpret the Constitution as I see fit [...]." Moran’s statement shows the shocking arrogance of law enforcement in Clark County and why LV Metro PD in particular was so dead-set against preemption laws (until Sheriff Lombardo saw the writing on the wall) and for strictly restricting citizens' Second Amendment rights.
Men like Moran and Cooper believed that Las Vegans deserved fewer rights than all other Nevadans, based on their opposition to preemption. While the original text of the 1989 law would have ended all local regulations in any form, just as 2015 change finally did (only 26 years late), an amendment was proposed by Chairman Danny L. Thompson, coming on the heels of a hard letter from Sheriff Moran. By hammering on the fact that Las Vegas was a "major city and faced major city problems," they used their influence to allow Clark County to keep its existing gun-control laws, primarily handgun registration and the waiting period.
The three-day wait adopted in 1965 was touted as a "cooling off" period. Unfortunately, evidence shows that cooling-off periods don't work as intended.
In his 2014 election campaign, Sheriff Lombardo supported eliminating the handgun registration program. His department did not testify against the bills which ultimately eliminated it. The program was estimated to cost up to $2 million a year with negligible benefits.
Local laws also created problems for local governments. Interestingly enough, because of Las Vegas’ large convention business and the opening of the Clark County Shooting Complex required changes in registration laws. First, a visitor bringing a firearm, for protection or for competition, was required to register their handgun with 72 hours of arriving in Clark County. This had to be changed to allow for 60 days of residency so competition shooters wouldn’t unintentionally break the law.
Second, since it was illegal to carry a firearm in Clark County parks, the name of the Clark County Shooting Park had to be changed to Complex. Clark County was given a very narrow exemption in 1989 when the original preemption law was passed to allow for the ‘blue card’ system. Attorney General Cortez-Masto interpreted the legislative intent to allow for Clark County’s park ban on guns, but the ordinance could not be modified in anyway, as only unmodified laws in effect prior to 1989 would still be permitted. So instead of amending the no-guns-in-parks ordinance, the shooting park became a shooting complex as a name change was simpler.
Senate Bills 175/240 amended the existing preemption laws to eliminate the ‘blue card’ system and erase any vestige of exempted local laws. The wording in each bill was identical. In short:
“The regulation of the transfer, sale, purchase, possession, carrying, ownership, transportation, storage, registration and licensing of firearms, firearm accessories and ammunition 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.”
Under NRS 244.364 (counties), NRS 268.418 (cities), and NRS 269.222 (towns), no local authority can regulate firearm in any matter, except prohibiting the unsafe discharge. That means unless state law makes it illegal, any local law or rule regarding firearms is powerless. The bills went further, requiring that by October 1st of 2015, local laws must be repealed, or enhanced civil penalties could be awarded to anyone who was “adversely affected” by the now-illegal local regulations.
As a result, there is no prohibition for visiting a public building openly carrying a firearm in violation of a local rule, no law prohibiting anyone from fishing at Sunset Park with a concealed handgun, and no more standing in line at Metro to register a hand gun.
Why is this important?
This week, the Los Angeles city council required all handguns to be unloaded and locked away, in direct violation of the Supreme Court’s finding in DC vs. Heller, and in July, banned all existing magazines over 10 rounds capacity, despite under state law, grandfathered magazines are still legal. Of the new storage law, city councilman Paul Krekorian said that he expected the city to be sued, expressed the opinion that those defending the Second Amendment and challenging the defiance of existing case law were spoil-sports.
While in Nevada no case has as yet been as extreme as California, the hits keep on coming. In 2013, Gov. Sandoval had to veto SB 221 which sought to ban private gun sales (repackaged as the misnamed universal background check initiative in 2016) passed by a Democrat controlled legislature. In the borderline predominately blue Clark County, with its history of gun control, measures similar to Los Angeles would not be unlikely except for state preemption.
As readers of this blog are aware, the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District has repeatedly and with no legal basis removed patrons legally openly carrying firearms. First, their own policies give them no such authority and secondly, they are prohibited under state law from making any rule to prohibit the legal carry of firearms. In a galling statement made privately, the district’s own council said that the district would not be changing its practices any time soon and he expected them to be sued over it. The taxpayer will have to bear this expense.
It’s not about where guns can be carried or who gets to; it’s about equal application of the law. The Second Amendment is extraordinarily clear “[…] shall not be infringed.” The legislature echoed that sentiment in its enhanced preemption laws. It’s time that all Nevada government entities abide by the law and not force the public, by administrators’ recalcitrance, to pay the legal bills.