Opinion on SB115: Guns in Libraries

2017-05-12 | Nevada Firearms Coalition

Senator Denis, a Democrat, and sponsor of SB 115, a bill which would add libraries to a list of institutions, like schools, where guns are banned, recently introduced a proposed amendment to allow firearms in parking lots. Specifically, enabling libraries, schools, colleges and universities, and child care facilities to make policies, if they chose, to allow firearms in parking lots and roads on campus. The amendment allows for very broad, restrictive, or even no policies.

An objection to the bill was made by a rideshare driver, a licensed concealed carrier, who was afraid he would inadvertently break the law if he picked up a passenger at a library while armed. The law might also apply to those just dropping off books.

The bill was co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbrary-Axelrod, a former trustee of the Las Vegas Clark County Library District (LVCCLD) that is at the center of the issue regarding the district's illegal ban on openly carried firearms, permitted by state law. SB 115 seeks to change the “weapons in schools” law, whereas under a separate statute, prohibits only concealed carry, leaving citizens no choice but to carry openly if they wish to be legally armed in most public buildings.

Though the overwhelming majority of armed citizens prefer concealed carry, state law forces open carry in public buildings. Open carry has always been permitted in most, non-school, public buildings in Nevada as many historic court decisions have affirmed a constitutional protection for visibly carried arms. A Legislative Counsel Bureau opinion from 2015 confirms the legality of open carry in public buildings as well.

Opponents oppose the law, arguing that Bilbray-Axelrod herself told local media that the district intended to pursue legislation after being sued for violating state firearm preemption laws. Nevada law prohibits local authorities from regulating firearms, except for unsafe discharge. LVCCLD contended it is a “special district” and the laws in questions don’t specifically pertain to the district.

Supporters of the bill contend that libraries, because children frequent them, are like schools, and thus firearms should be totally banned. Opponents say that they deserve the right to protect themselves at libraries and that the only reason this law was proposed is because gun-rights activists challenged the ban as a violation of state law. In the February 28 Senate hearing, LVCCLD administrator, Danielle Milam stated the district desired the change in case litigation is brought again.

Opponents allege that SB 115 has its root in that library district officials don’t like current law and know they will eventually lose in court, so officials want to change the law to trump activists. If true, this bill would set a dangerous precedent. Anytime citizens stood up for their rights under law and petitioned for redress, legislators could simply re-write the law to eliminate the very legal protections on which citizens stand.

At the other end of the spectrum, this creates the opportunity for school districts in particular to create policies that could potentially be very gun-friendly, but, the idea that educational institutions would actually voluntarily adopt a progressive policy allowing firearms to be stored in vehicles is a joke. Quite frankly, most authorities would continue the prohibition anyway, making Denis’ amendment nothing more than a “feel good” amendment and an empty gesture.

Every school and college/university principal or president already has the authority to issue written permission to carry concealed firearms, yet they rarely do so, and only under the most extreme of circumstances under conditions of absolute secrecy. The senator introduced his amendment knowing full-well that as a discretionary, not mandatory, policy it is highly unlikely anyone will adopt a parking lot exemption.

LVCCLD willfully broke state laws by trespassing those legally openly carrying firearms in its libraries. In adopting its anti-open carry policy, the library district didn’t even follow the state law that allows library districts to make policies. The short of it is, administrators made a policy to ban guns; state law prohibits only concealed carry. For the library to make a policy that it wishes to enforce, it must be made by the board of trustees, not office workers. The board of trustees never held such a vote and ignored the illegal enforcement.

If libraries like LVCCLD cannot follow existing law, why do we expect that they will enact a policy, that they have no obligation to enact in the first place, to exempt parking lots?

There has been no known incident of a lawfully armed citizen engaging in violence in a Nevada library, while LVCCLD employs armed guards at select locations with crime problems. Nationally, many states also prohibit libraries from banning firearms in contravention to state law. One must wonder what Senator Denis and Assemblywoman Bilbray-Axelrod are trying to solve; a safety problem, or thorny issue that local officials would like to legislate away.

Denis’ is attempting to overcome objections to his bill by throwing opponents a bone, except this is nothing more than a plastic chew toy instead of something meaty. Perhaps school districts in some parts of the state might actually create a decent policy, but for the vast majority of Nevadans, it is unlikely.