Nevada Democrats and gun control advocates rallied around a trio of bills on Thursday that amplified calls for gun regulation while recalling the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting that became the deadliest in U.S. history.
More than five years after a shooter killed scores of people at a country music concert, the recent rise in mass shootings across the U.S. was repeatedly cited in debates over a bill to solidify language meant to ban homemade “ghost guns” and raise the eligible age to possess semi automatic shotguns and assault weapons from 18 to 21.
Another bill would bar possession of a gun within 100 yards of an election site entrance, with narrow exceptions. A third bill would prohibit owning a firearm within a decade of a gross misdemeanor or felony hate crime conviction.
An increasing number of mass shootings across the U.S. have widened the political divide on gun ownership, with Democratic-led states pushing restrictions on gun ownership. In many states with Republican-led legislatures, shootings appear unlikely to prompt new restrictions this year, reflecting a belief that violent people, not their possession of weapons, are the problem.
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With Democrats firmly in control of both branches of the Nevada Legislature, the fate of the bills may fall to Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo, who was the Clark County sheriff during the Las Vegas mass shooting.
Ahead of a hearing lasting more than five hours in Carson City, bill sponsor and Assembly Majority Leader Sandra Jauregui said the package would “protect second graders and the second amendment at the same time.” But the proposal encountered heavy opposition from Republicans and pro-gun groups, including the National Rifle Association and the Nevada Republican Party.
Jauregui, a Democrat, was among the 22,000 concertgoers who in October 2017 fled 10 minutes of gunfire raining into a country music festival crowd from the windows of a high-rise hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. The attack killed 60 people and injured hundreds more.
“I never want a Nevadan to experience the trauma that I and so many have endured,” she said in a quivering voice while presenting the bill, flanked by more than a dozen attendees in the red shirts of gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action.
Jauregui called the legislation “common sense” during a press conference earlier in the day. She was joined by several other advocates and lawmakers including Democratic State Sen. Dallas Harris of Las Vegas, who brought forth the decade-long firearm ban for those convicted of hate crimes.
Nevada Democrats are pushing for three bills promoting stricter gun control regulations.
“This is something we should not try and wheel and deal on,” Harris said. “The lives of Nevadans are not a bargaining chip.”
The Nevada Assembly Republican Caucus released a statement Wednesday calling the two Jauregui-backed bills unconstitutional and ineffective at stopping violent people from getting weapons.
Lombardo has previously bucked other Republicans by supporting universal background checks, though he still positions himself as firmly pro-Second Amendment while touting his NRA membership. While campaigning in 2022, he vowed to veto any legislation curtailing ghost gun access.
Spokesperson Elizabeth Ray said in a statement that the governor would monitor the bills through the legislative process and “engage when we feel necessary.”
Harris and Jauregui said they had not been in contact with the governor’s office.
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The gun proposal hearings were at times emotional and contentious. Several speakers and lawmakers recounted connections to the Las Vegas mass shooting. One recalled throwing her body over her younger sister and her friends to protect them from a “madman with a gun.”
Republican state Senator Jeff Stone noted several friends who are “still traumatized” by the 2017 shooting, while Democratic Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod recalled texting her daughter, who was in lockdown, “telling her it was going to be ok, and not knowing if it would be ok.”
Several gun control advocates mentioned a provision allowing an exemption for the age restriction for active or honorably discharged military members under the age of 21. They also said raising the age to 21 for possession of semi-automatic shotguns and assault weapons would be on par with the eligible age to own a handgun.
The NRA, the Nevada Republican Party and a host of residents called the bills unconstitutional and discriminatory. Some said taking away guns, particularly in public areas where elections are held, could make those areas more dangerous.
“People who are going to use guns illegally don’t check the rulebook to determine what they can and cannot do,” Jacob Paiva of Lyon County said.
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NRA lobbyist Daniel Reid argued raising the age was unconstitutional and would qualify as age discrimination. He referenced a California court ruling last year deeming a law unconstitutional that banned the sale of semiautomatic weapons to those under 21.
Olivia Li, counsel with Every for Gun Safety, countered with a similar law in Florida that was ruled constitutional.