November 21, 2017

Open Carry in Play for Nevada Libraries

A bill that would allow each Nevada library to decide for itself whether to bar firearms is due to be taken up by the Nevada Assembly, after winning passage through the Senate. Weapons would be prohibited from public library property, unless the owner has written permission from the governing board of the library.

The measure, Senate Bill (SB) 115, was sponsored by two Democrats from Las Vegas, State Senator Moises Denis and Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod. It passed the upper house of the legislature on March 21 by a 12–9 vote along party lines. Its next stop is the assembly’s Judiciary Committee, where action has not yet been scheduled. But with the legislature in session, Bilbray-Axelrod told LJ that a final vote could be a few weeks away.

Democrats have a 27–14 majority in the Nevada State Assembly, so, Bilbray-Axelrod noted, there are sufficient votes to pass the law without support from a single Republican. But an absence of bipartisan support, she cautioned, would make it highly questionable that Republican governor Brian Sandoval would sign the bill once it reached his desk.

Under the bill in its current form, guns would also be excluded from library parking lots. However, a “carveout” that would legally allow library patrons to keep firearms in their vehicles—seen as a change that would greatly facilitate library visits for gun owners—is in the works and would help sway some GOP legislators, Bilbray-Axelrod said, particularly those from Nevada’s more conservative rural districts.

“I am going to offer that amendment,” Bilbray-Axelrod said, “and I have it on good faith from one Senator, a Republican and pretty conservative, who has said that he thought that he could help me harbor some support on the Assembly side. Our best chance of getting it signed by the governor is if we can get even one or two Republican votes.”

When interviewed on April 18, Bilbray-Axelrod said that language for the carveout had not yet been drafted.

Denis and Bilbray-Axelrod both have library backgrounds. The assemblywoman currently serves on the Las Vegas–Clark County Library District (LV-CCLD) Board of Trustees, and Denis is a former chair of the same board, though no longer a trustee. Both legislators characterized the bill as a way of closing a troublesome loophole by establishing libraries as educational institutions under state law.

Nevada has an open-carry statute for gun owners, but that law already grants day-care centers, schools for grades K–12, and colleges and universities a legal right to ban weapons from their premises. Denis’s bill would extend that same protection to libraries.

The bill met with opposition from some Senate Republicans and the National Rifle Association (NRA), which maintains a powerful lobbying presence in Nevada. Objections were raised during public hearings, but the Democratic majority in the Senate proved sufficient to get the measure passed.

TROUBLING INCIDENTS

Many large metropolitan Nevada library systems, such as LV-CCLD, already ban weapons. Still, Ronald Heezen, that library’s executive director, said he has been troubled by an increased number of incidents involving patrons bringing potentially dangerous items into Las Vegas libraries.

“We asked Sen. Denis to sponsor it for us,” Heezen told LJ about the bill. “We want it clarified in the law that libraries are educational institutions.”

One particular incident helped convince Heezen that the law was needed.

In March of 2006, a mother carried a holstered weapon into LV-CCLD’s Rainbow Library while visiting the branch with her three children. The woman, Michelle Flores, wore a .38 caliber revolver, which quickly drew the notice of library staff. She was handed a list of library rules, Heezen said, which included a prohibition on firearms. (Signs are also posted on entrance doors). The incident escalated when Flores squatted on the floor to block a main entrance. Las Vegas police were summoned, and she was removed from the premises and cited for trespassing.

Flores later sued LV-CCLD, which had revoked her library privileges for one year, claiming an infringement of her constitutional rights to bear arms and seeking a removal of the library’s weapons ban. Lawyers for the library argued she was ejected from the library for disorderly conduct only. In June, Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Stefany Miley sided with LV-CCLD.

Heezen, who mentioned other scattered episodes involving patrons who brought potentially dangerous weapons into LV-CCPL branches, described SB 115 as “just a clarification that the way we have done business in the past is the way we hope to do business in the future.”

As for the proposed carveout, Heezen said, “I think it’s a fabulous idea. To me, that just makes sense. All we’re saying is, we don’t want [weapons] through the front door.”

Other advocates of gun rights in Nevada were less convinced that SB 115 was in the public’s best interest.

Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, for one, argued against Denis’s bill. “I’m concerned that we are telling the public that we are creating gun free zones,” Roberson said. “This bill undermines law-abiding Nevadans right to bear arms in this state and number two, actually endangers the public by making public libraries a more attractive place for the criminal element to come. So I want to see adequate security at these libraries.”

At another hearing, NRA lobbyist Daniel Reid complained that the measure was unjust, although much of his argument centered on problems that would be addressed by the proposed carveout for library parking lots.

A spokesperson for the Nevada Library Association, contacted by LJ for comment, said that organization would take no public stance. But Denis and Bilbray-Axelrod claimed widespread support from individual library systems.

Gayle Hornaday, acting director of the Henderson County Public Library, sent a letter to be read at the Senate committee hearing for SB 115. “Weapons have no role in the library, and are not appropriate for the library environment,” the statement read. “The public library is free and open to all visitors, providing learning, entertainment, and connection with the community. When a person with a holstered weapon has occasionally been seen in the library, it has caused a disturbance, because people immediately perceived the potential for a dangerous conflict or an accident. Prohibiting weapons in the library is essential to affirm the library’s role as a community institution that provides inclusion and opportunity for all.”

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Comments

  1. Most states allow firearms in libraries. So should Nevada. Learn more at Opencarry.org. And carry on!

  2. anonymous coward says:

    Texas has allows open carry. you know how much library violence has increased due to this?! Oh, that’s right. It hasn’t. Not at all.

  3. I like that rules are being put in the hands of the establishment instead of forced by the gov. If you open carry you likely have a permit. Good guys with guns is OK by me.

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