86°F
weather icon Clear

Gov. Sisolak’s campaign vow to ban assault weapons came up empty

CARSON CITY — As a candidate, Steve Sisolak promised to stand up to the powerful gun lobby and pass a slew of legislation — including banning the sale of assault rifles.

“When I’m governor, we’re going to ban assault rifles, bump stocks, silencers. We need to take action. And now’s the time to take action,” Sisolak said in a campaign ad in April 2018 that aired in Nevada’s urban cores of Las Vegas and Reno.

That call for a ban came a little over six months after the Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead at the Route 91 Harvest Music festival. The gunman in that shooting was armed with more than a dozen military-style semiautomatic AR-15 rifles, which were also equipped with bump stocks allowing them to simulate automatic fire.

Some of Sisolak’s promised gun control policies did become law this year, like implementing the stalled background check initiative and banning bump stocks.

But despite that promise of swift action, Sisolak’s first legislative session as governor, which saw Democrats in control of the governorship and both houses of the Legislature for the first time in 28 years, came and went without even a proposal for a ban on assault-style weapons.

The guns have once again leaped to the forefront of the national gun control debate after a week that saw three public mass shootings that left 34 people dead and dozens more wounded in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Authorities said that the gunmen in the attacks legally purchased the military-style assault weapons that were used in the shootings.

In the Gilroy shooting, authorities say 19-year-old Santino William Legan evaded California’s strict gun laws by crossing into Nevada, where he was able to legally purchase a WASR 10 semiautomatic rifle, a knock-off of the military-grade AK-47.

‘Divisive’ issue in Nevada

Despite Sisolak’s campaign rhetoric, University of Nevada, Reno political science professor Eric Herzik said that he does not know “if, politically, Democrats wanted to go there during the session,” referring to an assault weapons ban.

“The issue wasn’t ready,” Herzik said. “It would have been so divisive they probably would have lost some of the other gains they made.”

But that lack of action on assault weapons from Democrats angered some gun control activists in the state, especially in the wake of the recent shootings.

“If you fear to do the thing, with regard to gun violence, that you promised to do when you were trying to get elected once you are elected, then you shouldn’t be there in the first place,” said Christiane Brown, co-president of the Northern Nevada chapter of the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence.

Brown praised the other gun control measures signed into law this year in Nevada, but said the Gilroy shooting demonstrates the “need for a national assault weapons ban.”

“States with worse gun laws can impact other states,” Brown said.

In a statement, Sisolak did not directly answer questions about an assault weapons ban, but said that since taking office “Nevada has made tremendous progress by passing the most consequential gun violence prevention legislation in our state’s history.”

“I’m proud that we passed common-sense reforms that keep guns out of the hands of those who wish to do harm,” Sisolak added. “I will continue working with law enforcement, elected and community leaders, and subject matter experts to explore different ways we can keep Nevadans safe.”

Previous bid to ban assault rifles

The federal government instituted a 10-year ban on the sale of assault rifles in 1994, but failed to extend it when it expired in 2004. Currently six states, including California, and the District of Columbia, ban the sale of assault rifles.

The most recent national poll on the issue, conducted by NPR/PBS/Marist in mid-July, showed that 57 percent of Americans support banning “the sale of semi-automatic assault guns such as the AK-47 or the AR-15,” while 41 percent oppose it.

On the national stage, many Democratic presidential candidates have voiced their support for a federal ban on the sale of the types of weapons used in the recent shootings.

In Nevada, the last attempt to ban assault weapons came in 2013 through a bill sponsored by then-Sen. Tick Segerblom, who is now a Clark County commissioner.

The bill never got a hearing and died halfway through that session.

“When you look at the list, it’s not at the very top,” Segerblom said when asked why a law banning assault weapons hasn’t passed in Nevada.

Segerblom’s comments echoed those of Democratic Speaker Jason Frierson, who told the Nevada Independent in October 2018 that he didn’t “see there being a chance” to pass such a ban, while adding that he was “open” to it.”

Frierson did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo, D-Las Vegas, who helped push the stronger gun storage laws that eventually became law under Assembly Bill 291, said that he was told that after passing the revamped background checks law early in the session, lawmakers “didn’t want to push too much gun legislation.”

Do bans work?

It’s impossible to say whether a ban on assault weapons in Nevada would have prevented the suspect in the Gilroy shooting from purchasing a weapon, said Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor who studies constitutional law and gun policy.

“You can’t take any one particular act and say this law would have definitely prevented it,” Winkler said.

The effectiveness of assault weapons bans is an oft-debated topic, and data on the issue is limited.

One study from 2015 found that such bans significantly reduced deaths from mass shootings. But the nonpartisan think tank Rand Corp. wrote after reviewing the study that it didn’t meet their analysis criteria and claimed that there was “inconclusive evidence for the effect of assault weapon bans on mass shootings.”

But another study from this year, which analyzed deaths from mass shootings from 1981 to 2017, concluded that there was a significant reduction in deaths in such events during the 10-year federal ban from 1994 to 2004 as compared to the periods before and after.

Winkler said it’s still premature to say that banning assault weapons would do anything to reduce the number of mass shootings in America.

“The ultimate issue is that if you ban these weapons then clearly these weapons will show up less often at shootings. The question is if you ban them will they reduce the number of mass shootings?” Winkler said.

Pragmatic politics

Despite Sisolak’s promise, passing an assault weapons ban in Nevada would have been “an incredibly heavy lift,” according Herzik, the UNR political science professor.

Part of that reason is Nevada’s part-time Legislature, which meets for 120 days every other year.

“I don’t think they could have gotten it through, given the time constraints. … So they went for other changes, I think the most significant being the red flag warnings,” Herzik said, referencing laws that allow law enforcement to confiscate guns from people deemed to be a threat to others or themselves.

Another reason, Herzik said, was that while Democrats did control both houses and the governor’s mansion, not every Democrat may have been on board with an outright ban.

“That assumes all Democrats are on board with a very strong anti-gun agenda. I don’t think that is a safe assumption,” he said.

And just because the governor vowed to ban those weapons, he doesn’t have the power to do so on his own, Herzik added.

“It was a promise made by the governor. It wasn’t a promise made by the Legislature.”

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hurricanes, Gender, and Science in the Press
Imagine if the mainstream media’s current hurricane-sized obsession with scientific accuracy applied to gender.
Cory Booker on college tuition and minimum wage
Cory Booker talks on the RJ Politics podcast about college debt, informing workers about their rights and livable wages.
Nevada Politics Today: Teacher raises - VIDEO
Jason Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, talks about teacher pay and raises. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Trump says China trade deal unnecessary before election

The world’s two largest economies have been locked in a high-stakes duel marked by Trump’s escalating penalties on Chinese goods and Beijing’s retaliatory tariffs.

UAW strike puts Trump, GOP in political bind in key states

Led by President Donald Trump, GOP officials have largely avoided taking sides in the strike that threatens to upend the economy in Michigan.

Commissioners want Clark County to fight climate change

Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones outlined steps this week he’d like to take to fight climate change, including hiring a sustainability director and adopting an action plan similar to the city of Reno.

Trump defends himself repeatedly against whistleblower’s complaint

President Donald Trump defended himself Friday against a whistleblower’s complaint, including a reported private conversation with a foreign leader. Meanwhile, the administration plunged into a showdown with Congress over access to the complaint.

US to send more troops to Saudi Arabia, UAE

The Pentagon says the U.S. will deploy additional troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to beef up security, as President Donald Trump has at least for now decided against any immediate military strike on Iran in response to the attack on the Saudi oil industry.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio drops 2020 presidential bid

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ended his campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on Friday after struggling to gain traction in a sprawling field of candidates.