Despite opposition, lawmakers revive and advance MGM-backed bill banning guns in casinos

A revived, last-minute bill aimed at giving casino resorts a greater ability to ban firearms on their premises supported by MGM Resorts drew staunch opposition from an unusual group of opponents — Republicans, gun right advocates and criminal justice reform groups.

During a joint meeting of Assembly and Senate judiciary committees on Saturday, lawmakers spent a rainy Carson City morning digging into the details of SB452 — an emergency bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and introduced last week that revives jettisoned portions of the other major gun bill of the session. Senators opted to vote the bill out of committee after the hearing on a 4-3, party-line vote.

Cannizzaro, who presented the bill alongside Sen. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas), Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas) and MGM Resorts representative Ayesha Molino, characterized the bill as another step that lawmakers could take to protect workers on the Las Vegas Strip.

“We are again looking to adapt our state's legal tools to better protect our hospitality workers and our visitors and guests that traveled to Las Vegas from around the world, this time by ensuring that we can appropriately prevent instances where physical violence may otherwise be a factor,” Cannizzaro said.

Nevada Speaker of the Senate Nicole Cannizzaro presents SB 452 during a joint meeting of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Assembly Committee on Judiciary inside the Legislature on Saturday, May 22, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

This isn’t the first time that lawmakers have heard details on the concept of expanding “gun-free zones” — similar language was initially included in Jauregui’s AB286, legislation that also bans firearm assembly kits without serial numbers and so-called “ghost guns.” The concept is strongly supported by MGM Resorts, which helped present both the Assembly and Senate bills and has sought enhanced limits on firearms since the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting that took place on the company’s properties.

That bill saw amendments narrowing and finally eliminating the language on limiting firearm possession on private property — in part over concerns from progressive lawmakers and criminal justice reform advocates that the provisions would lead to more harassment and targeting of minority communities.

Despite another amendment presented Saturday, the bill drew many of the same complaints and concerns from not just gun rights advocates, but police unions, trial attorneys, progressive groups, public defenders and even several Democratic lawmakers, who said they feared the bill would lead to targeting of minority communities.

“We are going to have situations where Black folks and brown folks are going to be the ones who are going to be not asked to leave, but who are going to be the ones that the police are called on,” said Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D-Las Vegas). “I'm very concerned about that, because I have a commitment to my community that I do everything that I can to try and keep them safe. We know that every single time there is an interaction with police for Black and brown people, the opportunity for it to go sideways is great.”

Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong during a joint meeting of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Assembly Committee on Judiciary inside the Legislature on Saturday, May 22, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

SB452 (plus an amendment) allows for non-restricted gaming license holders (defined as more than 15 slot machines on property) to opt in to the provisions of the bill, which generally prohibits individuals from bringing firearms onto casino property with certain exemptions. Businesses would be required to post signage at every public entrance and give law enforcement a seven-day notice before opting in to the bill’s provisions.

A person who is carrying a concealed firearm would have to be given a verbal warning prior to any involvement by law enforcement, with no verbal warning given to someone openly carrying a firearm, before the person with a gun is opened up to criminal liability or a police response. If a person refuses to leave the premises or surrender the firearm, the bill would set an initial misdemeanor penalty.

Exemptions in the bill would cover security guards or police while on duty, owners of residential units within the casino property, guests who purchase a firearm at a trade show, or anyone who obtains the written consent of the property to bring a firearm there. The amendment to the bill would require any casino property that opts in to the bill to adopt policies and procedures that include training for security guards on de-escalation techniques, cultural diversity competency and implicit bias.

After the hearing, the bill was processed with another amendment that sought to address concerns raised by opponents, including:

  • Requiring an establishment’s firearm policies be provided on their website, and for all signs to cite the controlling portion of state law
  • Require police that arrive in response to a call from the establishment to identify themselves and provide the person an opportunity to comply with the policy
  • Narrow the definition of “premises” to exclude any adjacent properties owned by the licensee
  • Revise the law enforcement exemption to mirror language in existing law on a similar exemption in the state prohibition on firearms on school campuses

Supporters stressed that private businesses already have the right to prohibit firearms on their premises, but that the bill would give them an ability to better enforce their property rights — Cannizzaro said it’s “something that they may already do, and we are trying to make sure that that is something that they can properly enforce.”

“This language simply enhances the business community's toolkit to notify patrons of this prohibition and to call upon law enforcement to assist and address situations before they escalate and become dangerous,” she said.

The bill attracted support from Everytown for Gun Safety and the Culinary union — lobbyist Jim Sullivan cited the 2017 mass shooting and said thousands of union members “saw firsthand the effects of gun violence” and wanted to ensure that “no hospitality worker ever has to experience that trauma again.”

But much of the testimony on the bill was in opposition — ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Athar Haseebullah noted that the legislation drew opponents from across the ideological spectrum and called the bill “half-baked at best.”

“This simply isn't a bad bill that has good intentions, this is a deadly bill, with good intentions,” he said. “No amendment to this bill, no matter how well intended, can fix its potential outcomes. This bill is inherently unredeemable, and is a pretense for dangerous and racist stop-and-frisk policies that have plagued our country and our state.”

National Rifle Association lobbyist Dan Reid said the bill would create “a lot of uncertainty” for gun owners, saying the exemption for residential unit owners in casino resorts may not cover family members or guests.

“We think this bill is wholly unnecessary, and it really could implicate a lot of good people,” he said.

Though Republican lawmakers and gun rights advocates vigorously opposed the bill, the measure could run into difficulty in the Assembly, where many Democratic lawmakers expressed hesitancy and skepticism over the bill. Assemblywoman Cecelia González (D-Las Vegas) questioned whether the implicit bias training requirements in the legislation would be the same across the board at different properties, and said the circumstances described by proponents in which the bill would apply appeared uncommon at best.

“Just to be clear, we are seeking to address an issue that may or may not happen,” she said. “We don’t know.”

Still, supporters stressed that the bill would largely mirror prohibitions on firearm possession at schools and libraries, and said that lawmakers should take similar steps to ensure the safety of the state’s main economic driver — the Las Vegas Strip.

“As we've all noticed, the tourism economy is the lifeblood of our Nevada economy and so we should be paying special attention to the resorts and the casinos and the hotels, and all of the places that people come from all over the world to ensure that they can be safe while they are there,” Senate Judiciary Chair Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas) said shortly before the committee vote. “And we should be able to allow those facilities to have this increased and improved amount of safety on their properties.”

Contentious bill banning ‘ghost gun’ assembly kits sees heated hearing

Various handguns as seen on display inside Discount Firearms & Ammo in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2018.

Despite moving forward without contentious language allowing casinos to ban firearms on their property, hot-button legislation seeking to ban “ghost gun” firearm assembly kits elevated familiar battle lines on Tuesday.

In a roughly three-hour hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, lawmakers heard details of AB286, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas) — a survivor of the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 59 dead and hundreds injured. In the years since the shooting, Jauregui has become a vocal advocate for gun control in the Legislature — sponsoring a bill in 2019 banning “bump stock” modifications and allowing courts to issue extreme risk protection orders (so-called “red flag” laws) that allow for preemptive seizing of a person’s firearms.

The bill has attracted the typical amount of partisan fervor and impassioned testimony on firearm-related legislation — attracting the most opinions of any bill this legislative session and passing out of the Assembly on a party-line 26-16 vote in April. Still, Jauregui said the legislation was a necessary step to address the “rising epidemic of unmarked untraceable guns, also known as ghost guns.”

“We have made progress in the years since then, but we've also continued to see violent incidents that have left Nevadans questioning the safety of our community,” she said.

As currently written, the bill would generally prohibit a person from possessing, purchasing, transporting or receiving any unfinished frame or receiver of a firearm, or assembling any firearm not imprinted with a serial number. A person found violating those provisions would be guilty of a gross misdemeanor, with repeat offenses punishable by a Category D felony.

The bill allows for some exemptions, including for a person who is a licensed firearms importer or manufacturer, part of a law enforcement agency, or if the unfinished frame or receiver has already been imprinted with a serial number. It would also exempt any firearm that has been rendered permanently inoperable or is considered an antique or a collector’s item.

Advocates pointed to a sizable number of “ghost guns” recovered in the past year (10,000 nationwide in 2020, according to an estimate by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), and said the lack of laws and regulations meant it was easier for felons and other prohibited persons to obtain firearms.

Brady Campaign representative Steve Lindley, a former chief of California’s Bureau of Firearms who helped present the bill, showed committee members an example of an unfinished frame as part of a firearm assembly kit sold by Polymer80, a Nevada-based company that sells a popular "Buy Build Shoot," assembly kit. He said it took between 20 to 40 minutes to build the firearm, and that law enforcement every year recovered an increasingly large number of “ghost guns.”

“This problem is here, it is growing and is about to become uncontrollable for government and law enforcement to take action, unless we do something about it right now,” he said during the hearing.

The proposed legislation attracted opposition from Republican lawmakers, the National Rifle Association, law enforcement agencies and a host of firearm enthusiasts, who called the measure unclear and unfairly punitive to hobbyists without a clear rationale or way to show that it would be effective.

Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Gardnerville) questioned whether the bill would force him or others to relinquish decades-old firearms still in use that were produced before serial numbers were required. Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) said he didn’t see how a serial number requirement would “magically stop” felons or criminals from obtaining or possessing firearms.

“The idea that there are these criminal elements out there that are going into their garages...and making barrels and then attaching them to polymer handles and then bypassing the entire background check process, it lacks common sense,” he said.

Eric Spratley, representing the Nevada Sheriffs' and Chiefs' Association, also called in to oppose the bill on procedural grounds — saying the provisions of the legislation did not give police clear instructions on how to implement or enforce the new provisions. He said the association had proposed a procedural amendment focused on implementation that was ultimately rejected, which left the association opposed to the measure.

“If it’s confusing here, and the presenters aren’t clear on what the bill does and when, how are our Nevada law enforcement officers expected to know when to take proper enforcement action?” he said.

The original version of the bill included language aimed at giving major casino resorts a greater ability to prohibit firearms on their property, but those sections were amended out amid concerns from criminal justice advocates that those provisions could disproportionately affect minority populations, according to the Associated Press.

Despite the amendment, battle lines on the bill didn’t budge. Gun control advocates and Democratic-aligned groups said the measure would help curb gun violence in the state, with firearm advocates warning that it would arbitrarily punish lawful gun owners and do little to stop prohibited persons from obtaining firearms.

Many supporters of the bill said they were disappointed that many recovered “ghost guns” were assembled from parts manufactured and sold from the Dayton-based Polymer80 — which was raided by federal agents in December 2020 on suspicion that it was illegally manufacturing and distributing firearms.

“This is not a statistic that our state can be proud of,” Brady Nevada representative Christiane Brown said during the hearing. “Responsible gun owners don't need untraceable weapons, responsible gun owners register their firearms legally, and they purchase their weapons from licensed sellers.

The bill is advancing alongside federal efforts by President Joe Biden’s administration and the U.S. Department of Justice to expand the definition of “firearm” as a way to crack down on “ghost guns.” The president ordered the Department of Justice last month to crack down on firearm kits after mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado.

The Department of Justice filed a proposed rule on “ghost guns” on Friday, that would require gun retailers to run background checks before selling any firearm assembly kits, and requiring them to include a serial number on firearm kit parts or any other nonserialized firearm they intend to sell.

David Pucino, a senior staff attorney at Giffords Law Center, said AB286 was designed to go further than the proposed federal rule and capture additional firearm assembly kits, describing the legislation as “concurrent and would be mutually supportive.”

National Rifle Association lobbyist Dan Reid countered, saying that the bill as written would mostly burden hobbyists who build their own firearms or owners of older firearms without a clear public safety rationale.

“This world is far bigger than that and will go after firearms that have been made for personal use by law-abiding people for a long time,” Reid said.

Bill allowing businesses to prohibit firearms on property, banning ‘ghost’ guns sparks passionate testimony

Enter just about any private business in Nevada, and if a “No guns allowed” sign is posted outside the premises, it doesn’t carry much legal weight.

Beefing up that section of law, and banning sale or possession of privately assembled “ghost guns” without serial numbers are the point of AB286, a bill by Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas) that attracted hours of impassioned testimony during a Wednesday morning committee meeting. 

Jauregui, a survivor of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting that left 60 dead and hundreds injured, said she was bringing the measure as an attempt to both address gun violence generally in the state — pointing to the “ghost guns” used in the 2019 mass shooting at a Los Angeles area high school — and to give private businesses, including major casino resorts, a stronger legal standing to prohibit gun possession on their property.

“I know Metro and the sheriff are doing the best they can to handle this uptick, but they simply need more tools,” she said. “In a post-COVID world, we know we need to show visitors and residents alike that we are a place where you can forget about your problems, not come to find more. We know we need every selling point we can get to get our tourism economy back on track. “

Per existing law, no firearms — open or concealed — are allowed at K-12 schools, higher education institutions, child care facilities and some libraries. Public government buildings such as a courthouse, city hall or police station can prohibit the concealed carry of firearms if they post a sign or have a metal detector on the premise, but open carry is generally allowed (Nevada has no law prohibiting open carry of firearms).

Businesses typically do have a right to ask people carrying a firearm to leave the property under threat of trespass, which carries a misdemeanor penalty. 

But MGM Resorts executive John McManus, who presented the bill along with Jauregui, said that the current law lacks the “teeth” necessary to be effective, and that the proposed bill would “prevent the emergence of a culture that invites violence on the Strip.”

“We can exclude them through our general rights as a property owner, but right now, to my knowledge, there's nothing in Nevada law that stops you from carrying an illegal firearm into a casino environment,” he said.

So what would AB286 actually do? Per the bill (and an amendment making minor changes presented Wednesday by Jauregui), the legislation would explicitly authorize a “covered premise” to prohibit most individuals from possessing a firearm on its property without the written consent of the owner. A covered premise means any private business where a large number of people gather — including casinos, churches, shopping malls, stadiums, movie theaters or golf courses.

If a business opts in to the provisions, it would be required to post a “sufficient warning” — which could include a large sign in a “conspicuous place” or documents provided at the time of check-in at a hotel. The bill includes several exemptions, including for law enforcement or security guards, residential unit owners, or guests attending a trade show where firearms are purchased.

People who violate the provisions of the bill would face a misdemeanor penalty, with escalating charges up to a minor felony charge for repeated violations. 

The legislation also would ban the possession or sale of an unfinished frame or receiver, and ban sale or manufacture of any firearm without a serial number (with exemptions for law enforcement, licensed firearms importers, or for antique or inoperable firearms).

Steve Lindley, a program manager with the Brady Campaign, showed lawmakers a “ghost gun” kit purchased with cash in California, walking lawmakers through the ease with which such kits can be turned into operable firearms. He said the kits often fly under the radar and don’t have a serial number, making it easier for people not normally allowed to purchase or own firearms to work around the system.

“Because they're not serialized, there's nothing that law enforcement can do to trace back to the individuals who originally purchased them, or the manufacturers,” he said. “And that is a huge problem when it comes to investigations of serious crimes, specifically, shootings and homicides.”

But much of the attention on the bill focused on the ability of businesses to prohibit firearm possession on their premises.

Asked by Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill (R-Carson City) why the bill was necessary given existing trespassing laws and penalties, McManus said that MGM Resorts and other Strip properties needed additional tools to address the recent uptick in violent crime on the state’s most famous boulevard.

“It gives law enforcement greater basis to interact with them, and to question them and to determine what their intentions are, what their purpose of having a weapon on the property is,” the casino executive said. “Right now, if they decide to walk out the door, that's where the interaction ends. All you can do with the current trespass is ask somebody to leave, there's no other sanction.”

But that section of the bill attracted much of the opposition — opponents said it would create a confusing patchwork of rules for lawful gun owners, such as concealed carry weapon holders, to navigate.

“It's really a shame that they're going to have to go out and plot out their course for any day running errands to try and navigate, who they have permission from, whether they're going to run into the sporting goods store, to the shopping mall, or perhaps they're having lunch at a certain hotel, restaurant, etc.,” National Rifle Association lobbyist Dan Reid said. “So this is really disappointing.”

John Piro, a lobbyist for the Clark County Public Defender’s office, said the bill should be modified to only allow criminal penalties for those who “knowingly” violate the law, change how the bill treats individuals keeping firearms in their cars, and standardize the criminal penalty scheme throughout the bill.

And even though the bill contains explicit carve-outs for large firearm trade shows, Michael Findlay with the National Shooting Sports Foundation — organizers of the annual SHOT show — testified in opposition to the measure, saying it could lead to a “logistical nightmare” for the organization.

“We have longstanding relationships, we love Vegas, our guys are comfortable,” he said. “Our men and women that attend the show are very comfortable in the town...But if all of a sudden they show up, and things have changed also in restaurants, lodging, locations have signs posted, because most of our attendees are from either out of state or even out of the country, there's real questions as to whether what they do in that situation.”

The NSSF’s objections were shared by a lobbyist for three Teamsters unions that work the trade show — notable as similar objections from the foundation and organized labor helped sink a portion of Jauregui’s 2019 gun safety bill

For her part, Jauregui said her “virtual door” was open to any parties who had an interest or suggestion on how to improve the legislation — but only for those who actually want to see the bill passed.

“I will not sacrifice the safety of every visitor and every other convention, for the convenience of one,” she said.

Lawmakers begin tackling complex issue of jury trials for misdemeanor domestic violence cases

In 2019, the Nevada Supreme Court issued a ruling that fundamentally changed the state’s criminal justice system.

The state’s highest court found that a recent state law prohibiting firearm ownership for individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes was a serious enough punishment to warrant jury trials for defendants in those cases.

But a state Supreme Court order doesn’t always neatly translate into real-world practices. Municipal courts throughout the state, which typically handle misdemeanor domestic violence cases, scrambled to figure out ways to hold jury trials in courts and courtrooms not really set up for them (the City of Las Vegas temporarily stopped prosecuting domestic violence cases as a result of the case).

The issue was temporarily put on the backburner in 2020, as courts throughout the state halted all forms of jury trials as a precautionary measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But the issue hasn’t gone away, and now local governments are looking to the Legislature to hash out the issues and develop a structure for such jury trials to commence.

That’s why lawmakers in the Assembly Judiciary Committee spent several hours Wednesday hearing AB42, a measure sponsored by the City of Henderson and intended to implement the court’s 2019 decision by creating a framework for the novel phenomenon of holding jury trials in municipal court.

“We had never had this in the state of Nevada prior to this decision,” Henderson Senior Assistant City Attorney Marc Schifalacqua said during the hearing. “And while the decision was very straightforward, and the reasoning makes sense, it did raise many more questions than it actually answered.”

Although the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial, some jurisdictions (including Nevada) have not offered rights to a trial by jury for individuals charged under a “petty” offense, which typically means a violation with a maximum prison sentence of no more than six months. For an offense to move out of the “petty” category, it must come with additional penalties that are “so severe that they clearly reflect a legislative determination that the offense in question is a serious one.”

In 2015, state lawmakers approved a wide-ranging bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Michael Roberson that in part prohibited anyone convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in Nevada (or any other state) from owning or possessing firearms — the first domino that eventually led to the court’s 2019 ruling and subsequent implementation problems for municipalities.

Part of the problem, Schifalacqua said, is that the ruling came a few months after the Legislature had adjourned in 2019, meaning that cities and municipal courts didn’t have statewide guidance or a set of laws to follow to ensure that the new rules were being followed in all jurisdictions around the state. Additionally, several cases have been filed challenging municipal court authority in those cases, as those courts are typically governed by city charter and don’t have explicit authority to oversee a jury trial.

Many jurisdictions ended up passing city ordinances to implement the court’s order, but Schifalacqua said that solution was a “Band Aid” on the underlying implementation issue.

The bill (including an amendment proposed by the City of Henderson) provides “clear language” that municipalities have a discretionary right to conduct jury trials on domestic battery charges, provides a set of rules for how municipal courts conduct jury trials, and modifies the definition of which domestic violence crimes warrant a prohibition on gun ownership.

That last part, which changes state law from a federal definition of domestic battery to the one in state law (or “substantially similar” laws in other jurisdictions), attracted a host of questions and concerns from both lawmakers and pro-gun groups, including that it would inadvertently broaden the class of people prohibited from owning a firearm because the state domestic violence law is broader than the federal definition.

“The federal law is important because it provides consistency,” National Rifle Association lobbyist Dan Reid told the committee. “There's clear elements as far as what is both domestic and violent to the lifetime prohibition for firearms.”

Bill supporters, including Schifalacqua, noted that the provisions wouldn’t affect individuals who committed a domestic violence crime prior to the enactment date of January 2022 — meaning that they wouldn’t lose their firearm rights overnight. Schifalacqua also noted that about 30 other states had adopted protections related to domestic violence that went beyond the federal definition, with many of them also prohibiting gun ownership.

The bill attracted support from prosecutors and victim rights advocates, who said the measure could help reduce gun violence in the state. Nevada routinely ranks high in state rankings of domestic violence — Schifalacqua said states that had gone further than the federal domestic violence definition have seen a sizable decrease in gun violence or homicides between people in domestic relationships.

Carlene Helbert, a deputy city attorney with the City of Las Vegas, said the jurisdiction handles between 3,500 to 5,000 referrals of misdemeanor domestic violence cases every year. She said that legal challenges related to the city’s ability to prosecute those cases had left them at a “standstill,” mentioning that she had seen victims of abuse attend court, testify, and then go home with the alleged abuser.

“As a prosecutor, I have to watch this person leave with somebody who's committed violence against them, knowing that they're going to a house that has firearms in it,” she said. “And I have to think to myself, is that victim actually safer for having gone through this process?”

Michael Pariente, an attorney representing criminal defense trade group Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the attorney who successfully argued the initial case before the state Supreme Court, said it was “unacceptable” that the bill allowed smaller municipalities and courts to potentially opt out of the bill’s provisions, and that it should be amended to either require jury trials or require those cases be filed in another court. Pariente also said the minimum jury size (six) was too low.

“A defendant in a civil case who's being sued for more than $15,000 has the right to an eight person jury, though he or she is not facing incarceration, not facing a criminal conviction, nor facing the loss of a constitutional right,” Pariente said. “Yet a person charged with battery domestic violence faces up to six months in jail, and the lifelong loss of a constitutional right. Again, a person facing battery domestic violence only gets six persons on their jury.”

Representatives of the Clark and Washoe county public defender’s office also testified against the bill, saying the limited number of peremptory challenges in selecting jurors was “very detrimental” to finding fair and impartial jurors. But many opponents of the bill sounded cautious notes of optimism that additional amendments could fix their issues with the legislation.

“There is a cure to this problem, but the bill as written, even with its amendments, are not the cure,” Clark County Public Defender’s Office representative John Piro said. “But I think we can get there if we continue to work on that.”

October 1 emotions drive debate on bill to ban bump stock devices, give local governments more power

Six days after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at a county music concert in Las Vegas, Sandra Jauregui wrote a letter.

It was addressed to friends and family, written on advice of a counselor who told the Democratic Assemblywoman that it could help her process the trauma of having survived the mass shooting on October 1, 2017. On Monday, she read that letter publicly for the first time; detailing how her husband Truman covered her body to protect her from bullets, how she hid under bleachers, ran into gunfire to jump a fence and escape — and how she grappled with the guilt of survival.

“I feel lucky, but I also feel bad that we made it out okay. I don’t feel like I can be happy or that I should be. I know that for every bullet that didn’t hit us it hit somebody else,” she said, reading from the letter. “I feel bad that if I could have taken care of myself, maybe Truman could have done more to help other people. It was so hard seeing people who were hurt and shot and knowing I couldn’t do anything. And just seeing them and knowing it could have been us.”

Those painful memories of the nation’s worst mass shooting in recent history — which left 58 people dead and hundreds injured — took center stage during a hearing on AB291, a bill sponsored by Jauregui that would ban firearm modifications such as bump stocks, the devices used by the shooter to mimic the fire of automatic weapons and expend 1,049 rounds in just 11 minutes.

The measure also would reverse a 2015 state law giving the Legislature preeminent authority to regulate and oversee gun laws and decrease the blood alcohol content limit for firearm possession from 0.1 to 0.08.

Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald speaks outside the state Legislature on Monday, April 1, 2019 (Joey Lovato/The Nevada Independent)

The hearing drew impassioned testimony from supporters who implored lawmakers to ban the devices and give local governments flexibility on gun laws not afforded to the state’s part-time Legislature, and opponents who said the bill’s language was overly broad and would inadvertently make anyone with a minor firearm modification — not just a bump stock — an instant felon.

The hearing marked the second high-profile measure related to firearm regulation heard by lawmakers this session; Democratic lawmakers in February introduced and quickly passed a measure designed to implement a stalled 2016 ballot initiative requiring background checks on most private party gun sales or transfers.

Despite the emotional testimony, the bill is also likely to overlap with federal regulations. In December, the Department of Justice announced a long-anticipated administrative ban on “bump-stock” devices, which went into effect last month. Owners of the devices — estimates are around 500,000 such devices have been sold — have 90 days to turn in or destroy the devices, or otherwise face criminal penalties.

During the hearing, Republican lawmakers peppered Jauregui and bill presenters with questions on the bill, mostly regarding language they said was broader than similar federal restrictions on the same bump stock devices and could result in unexpected consequences. Republican Sen. Keith Pickard said participants in shooting competitions often trade out trigger systems for easier or more rapid-firing modifications and that his interpretation of the bill meant that those types of modifications would be illegal.

“It in no way approximates the rate of an automatic weapon, but as I read this, this bill would make possession of those weapons illegal,” he said. “So they’d become criminals as of the day of adoption.”

Chelsea Parsons, an attorney with the left-leaning Center for American Progress who helped present the bill, acknowledged that the measure was designed to be broader than federal regulations on bump stocks as a way to “anticipate future innovation by the gun industry.”

Jauregui said she would be willing to amend the bill to make it better reflect her intent, which was to ban any device that made a semi-automatic weapon fire like a fully automatic weapon, and not to make all weapon modifications illegal.

“We wanted to make sure that we were covering our tracks, so in a year or two if we just banned bump stocks, that somebody wasn’t going to create new technology or innovate new technology that essentially is a bump stock but call it something different,” she said in a follow-up interview.

The Democratic assemblywoman also presented a conceptual amendment to the bill clarifying that local governments have “limited authority” to create or adopt ordinances more stringent than state law on firearms, accessories or ammunition. It comes as the bill repeals a section of law approved in 2015 as part of a slew of wide-ranging firearms bills that expanded the definition of justifiable homicide, limited the ability of a person with a restraining order related to domestic violence to own a firearm and gave the Legislature preeminent authority over state gun laws.

Former Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani and Commissioner Justin Jones both testified that the preemption laws had frustrated the county’s ability to quickly enact policies such as banning bump stocks or limiting public carry of firearms during high-density events like New Year’s Eve on the Las Vegas Strip.

“Local gun regulation is not and never will be a perfect solution to gun violence,” Giunchigliani said. “Nor is it a substitute for federal or state reform. But local governments are better positioned to deal with matters like public carrying. Commissioners know there’s no one-size-fits all solution that covers crowded urban cities and sparsely populated rural areas.”

Much of the testimony from supporters veered to the emotional. Heather Sallan, who also attended and survived the concert shooting, told lawmakers that she was wearing the same boots she had worn to the concert as a reminder of the damage caused by the shooting.

“No one attending a concert or an event of any kind should be able to explain the whistle sounds of a bullet so close to their left ear that their hair moves. But I can,” she said. “What a bump stock was made for was not relevant. What a bump stock was used for changed my life forever.”

Dan Reid, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said the bill’s removal of the preemption laws could likely open the door to local governments introducing drastic gun control measures, such as bans on magazine size or certain types of ammunition.

“This is incredibly problematic, to expect someone to know every single jurisdiction, because the way I’m reading the preemption statute with it being completely repealed, it’s open season on anyone to pass any sort of ordinance,” he said.

Nevada Firearms Coalition lobbyist Randi Thompson asked Democratic lawmakers — who have made criminal justice reform a top priority this session — if they were comfortable adding penalties that could result in more Nevadans going to jail.

“Once the governor signs this bill as presented today, thousands of Nevadans will instantly become felons,” she said. “This does not seem like the kind of reform you’re advocating for this session.”

But state government officials don’t expect the measure to result in more incarceration or a large fiscal impact. A fiscal note from the state Department of Corrections estimated the bill would cost less than $10,000 in future budget cycles, estimating that it would result in about four additional inmates per year.

In addition to the federal administrative rule, at least 11 states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — and some cities have banned bump stocks, primarily since the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

It’s still unclear and increasingly unlikely that lawmakers will take up a call made by Gov. Steve Sisolak on the 2018 campaign trail to ban “assault” weapons. Jauregui declined to say in an interview if she would support such as a ban, saying she thought that decision should be kept on the local level.

“I really think we need to empower the local governments,” she said in an interview. “Because we might not need to ban, maybe in just some sensitive areas. So I think we eliminate this top-down approach and leave it to local governments.”