Las Vegas relaxes gun ban in parks

Some years back, the Nevada Legislature updated NRS 268.418 to limit the powers of local jurisdictions to enact gun laws more restrictive than those imposed by the state.

“No city may infringe upon those rights and powers,” the law states, except that cities may “proscribe by ordinance or regulation the unsafe discharge of firearms.”

Just drive across the valley and you’ll quickly see the need for this change. In a 30-minute commute, a motorist can easily cross in and out of the jurisdictions of Clark County, North Las Vegas, and the city of Las Vegas – all without any prominent notice of those changes of jurisidiction.

Now imagine you carry a handgun for self-defense – or that you’re transporting one to a practice range. What if one jurisdiction allows that firearm to rest openly on the seat beside you, a second jurisdiction requires permit holders to conceal the weapon under the seat, in a closed case or in the glove compartment, and a third allows none of these options, insisting that the firearm be locked in the trunk?

Pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, you could also find yourself arrested on gun charges, even though your conduct would have been legal on the other side of the street.

The state pre-emption makes sense, but it is still widely ignored. North Las Vegas police famously continue to enforce a restrictive local gun ordinance in clear violation of the state statute – against the advice of former Mayor Mike Montandon – seizing firearms based on methods of transport and storage that would be legal a few miles away.

And until now the city of Las Vegas has continued to ban all firearms from its city parks, claiming that city’s own ordinance was “grandfathered in,” because it was enacted before the change in state statute.

Such “grandfathering” is an interesting concept. When the 13th Amendment was ratified, we don’t recall reading that those who already owned slaves were “grandfathered in” and thus allowed to keep them.

The issue came up last week, when the Las Vegas City Council undertook to update the ordinance, adding an exemption to their ban on guns in parks for those who have concealed-carry permits.

That was a well-intended step in the right direction. But in modifying the gun rule, the council piqued the interest of the National Rifle Association, whose representative reminded the council that state law prohibits the city from banning guns in parks under any circumstances.

“The city doesn’t have the authority to regulate that,” Sacramento, Calif.-based NRA lobbyist Dan Reid told council members last week.

City Attorney Brad Jerbic disagreed, arguing that because the city ordinance predates the state law, the gun ban is legal. But he acknowledged the NRA could use the recent modification to argue it no longer predates the state’s pre-emption. “Leaving the language unchanged prohibiting everything you are pretty much golden,” Mr. Jerbic said back on Nov. 19. “Changing it, we have that risk.”

A local ordinance that violated state law – restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens as guaranteed by both the state and federal constitutions – was “golden”?

City Department of Detention and Enforcement Chief Michele Freeman actually argued in favor of maintaining a complete firearm prohibition, without the exception for concealed-weapons permit holders, arguing the full ban made enforcement easier for city marshals and that guns don’t belong in parks at all.

“I just don’t think weapons and families and children mix,” Ms. Freeman said.

The problem with this argument is that no place in the valley is “gun-free,” or likely ever will be. Have Ms. Freeman’s marshals been leaving their sidearms in their lockers when they travel to local parks? Of course not. Police officers consider themselves exempt from all such bans, and criminals similarly disobey all such laws with aplomb. So in a practical sense, edicts like the one Ms. Freeman favored disarm only one class of residents: law-abiding citizens who have undergone a background check, taken a safety class and jumped through all the other hoops necessary to obtain a permit.

Why do police and marshals carry guns into parks? Because they never know when they may encounter a dangerous felon, of course. And precisely the same holds true for the average citizen, who can never know when it may become necessary to defend him or herself, a child, or some other innocent party.

Mr. Reid of the NRA said Friday there’d been no decision about filing a lawsuit, though he noted the group is aware Clark County has a similar rule for its own parks.

A lawsuit will arise, eventually. To avoid much expense – and many senseless arrests, which will cause inconvenience but inevitably be dropped rather than allow a court test – local jurisdictions should obey the same code they expect residents to obey and stop infringing the right of peaceable Nevadans to keep and bear arms.

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