Newspaper column: Lawmakers should narrow, not expand gun-free zones

Lawmakers in Carson City continue to exhibit rabid hoplophobia — fear of guns. A bill has been introduced to further extend gun-free zones to public libraries and their parking lots. Senate Bill 115, introduced by state Sen. Mo Denis of Las Vegas, would add public libraries to the current law, which already prohibits guns and other weapons in the buildings and parking lots of universities, public and private schools and childcare facilities. Now, we have no problem with the private owners of land and buildings demanding that visitors come unarmed, and the state is surely the owner or custodian of universities and public schools. Though why lawmakers should be allowed to dictate to private schools and private childcare facilities is beyond us.

Additionally, this bill is a pointless endeavor that does nothing but add needless paperwork and wastes time, because every library district in the state has the power to control its own grounds and facilities. The Las Vegas-Clark County Library District already has a policy barring arms inside buildings and has guards who check to make sure that the holster on your belt holds a cellphone and not a handgun.

This law would require someone to get written permission to bring his or her weapon onto a library parking lot or into a library building.

During a recent committee meeting on the bill, Republican state Sen. Michael Roberson of Las Vegas, said, “I’m concerned that if these libraries don’t have adequate security that what we’re doing is we’re telling the public that we’re creating gun-free zones. And those here that want this bill can disagree with me but there have been studies that show gun-free zones are a magnet for criminal activity and mass shooters.”

He said the bill undermines law abiding Nevadans and actually endangers the public.

Republican state Sen. Don Gustavson — who represents all of Esmeralda, Humboldt, Lander, Mineral, Pershing and parts of Nye and Washoe counties — echoed Roberson’s concerns about creating gun-free zones. He asked rhetorically whether one would have a quicker response by pulling out a cellphone and calling 9-1-1 or pulling out a weapon. He said many in his district carry concealed weapons wherever they go.

According to the Nevada Firearms Coalition, since about 1950, more than 95 percent of all mass shootings in America have taken place where law-abiding citizens are banned from carrying guns.

Most puzzling is why it is a crime to have a gun in your car in the parking lot of these facilities. In fact, in the 2015 legislative session Assemblyman John Hambrick introduced a bill that would have allowed guns in vehicles at the aforementioned locales. A hearing on the bill was packed with proponents and opponents. A digest of the bill stated it would add an exception to the law so that a person would not be prohibited from possessing a weapon on those specific grounds if it were inside a locked or occupied motor vehicle. Seemed like a common sense approach, but it never got out of committee.

So people who are accustomed to keeping a pistol in the glove compartment or a rifle in a gun rack or the trunk are breaking the law if they drop their children off on school or daycare parking lots or visit a college campus. Now this bill would add public libraries, even if one is dropping a book at an outside collection box. Having a gun in the parking lot is not as good as having one on your person if the need arises. Just ask the vice principal of the Pearl, Miss., school who had to run a quarter mile to his vehicle to retrieve a gun to stop a shooter.

In October of 1997 a young man showed up on a school campus carrying a .30-30 rifle. He fatally shot two students. At the sound of gunshots, the vice principal ran a quarter of a mile to his truck, because the school was declared by law to be a gun-free zone, to recover and load his pistol before returning to campus, where he captured and disarmed the gunman and held him for four minutes until police could arrive. This could be an opportunity for an enterprising lawmaker to show some common sense for a change. Amend SB115 by adding the parking lot exception offered by Hambrick two years ago. That would not go far enough but would be a move in the right direction. Also, let library districts set their own policies.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Only four state senators vote against governor’s margin tax lite

Only four state senators had the gumption today to vote against the governor’s margin tax lite, which taxes businesses based on their gross receipts in the same way as the proposal on November’s ballot, which was defeated by voters by a 4-to-1 margin.

The four were Republicans Pete Giocoechea, Donald Gustavson, Scott Hammond and James Settelmeyer. That means seven Republicans and all the Democrats voted for Senate Bill 252, making the final vote 17-4. It now goes to the Assembly, where its fate is unknown.

State Treasurer Dan Schwartz and Controller Ron Knecht jointly sent out a press release calling on the Assembly to reject the bill. Press release on SB252

“To propose a tax that has been explicitly rejected by Nevada voters displays a blatant disregard for the democratic process. The Governor has called for alternatives. Those have been provided. They should be considered along with reprioritizing several proposed expenditures,” said Schwartz.

Assembly member Michele Fiore sent out an email pointing out that SB252 has 1,811 unique tax brackets based upon gross receipts. (The state Constitution states: “The Legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation …”)

She noted that the unemployment rate is still 7.1 percent in Nevada and “the last thing the Legislature should be doing is taking money out of the private sector, where it’s needed to create jobs, and transferring it to the public sector so that government can continue to spend beyond its means.”

Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Executive Vice President Victor Joecks commented:

“The voters of Nevada made clear in November that they do not want to impose a gross-receipts business tax, yet today the Senate passed a similar tax. Unlike the 17 Senators who voted in favor of SB252, Nevada voters recognized that raising taxes on businesses that are struggling or even losing money will only hurt families and parents throughout Nevada.”

Actually, as a survey reported by NPRI points out, Nevada voters apparently aren’t paying any attentionThe poll, conducted by Google Consumer Surveys in March, found 89.4 percent either did not know Sandoval supports the largest tax increase in Nevada history or mistakenly thought the governor supports keeping taxes low.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has said the so-called business license fee based on gross receipts will eventually rake in $250 million a year. The Nevada Registered Agent Association commissioned a study that says his figure is off by $65 million. NRAA Study

When Texas launched its margin tax it was expected to bring in $5.9 billion a year, but only netted $4.45 billion its first year and $4 billion the next.

Never mind that most of what Sandoval plans to spend on improving education will not work and has not worked when tried elsewhere.














Newspaper column: Nevada lawmakers must put a stop to civil asset forfeitures prior to conviction

The whole concept of civil asset forfeiture turns the law on its head, essentially finding people guilty until they can prove their innocence.

Police departments and federal agencies across the country have been using civil procedures to seize cash, cars and homes that just might be somehow, maybe linked to a crime.

In Humboldt County here in Nevada a county deputy seized $50,000 from a California tourist who said he’d won it at a casino. The deputy claimed he might be a drug dealer.

According to a recording from a dashboard-mounted camera in the patrol car, the tourist asked why he was being searched, and the deputy replied, “Because I’m talking to you … well, no, I don’t have to explain that to you. I’m not going to explain that to you, but I am gonna put my drug dog on that. If my dog alerts, I’m seizing the money. You can try to get it back but you’re not.”

He also told the tourist, “You’ll burn it up in attorney fees before we give it back to you.”

Over a two-year period Humboldt deputies seized $180,000 in cash from motorists, some of them got their money back after fighting the seizure in court.

Deputy seized cash from motorist.

The Nevada Attorney General’s office reportedly is investigating the county’s highway interdiction program, which smacks of highway robbery to us. The county’s new sheriff, who took office in January, has placed the deputy quoted above on paid leave pending an investigation.

In another Nevada case, the U.S. attorney’s office in Las Vegas demanded a local woman forfeit the $76,667 in salary she earned while running the office of her brother, who was later convicted of mortgage fraud.

U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt called the federal forfeiture effort against Jenna Depue “the most egregious miscarriage of justice I have experienced in more than twenty years on the bench. I refuse to be a party to it.”

Recently, New Mexico lawmakers passed a bill essentially ending most civil asset forfeitures in that state until someone is convicted of a crime. It also would not let police agencies keep the proceeds of a seizure and instead channels it into the state general fund, thus ending an incentive for police to use seizures to raise money.

In Carson City, Republican state Sens. Don Gustavson of Sparks and James Settelmeyer of Minden have sponsored Senate Bill 138, which is similar to the one in New Mexico. It also requires a conviction prior to seizure and states that any money left over after expenses are covered goes to the state general fund. The bill also mandates annual reports to the state on civil asset forfeitures.

The Fifth Amendment provides that “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

But too often police intimidate people by basically extorting waivers of due process rights. In the case of the tourist in Humboldt, he was threatened with having his car impounded, too.

The Institute for Justice has been fighting civil asset forfeiture in the courts and on op-ed pages of newspapers for years. President and General Counsel Chip Mellor of IJ once said: “The Institute for Justice has documented time and again that civil forfeiture invites a lack of accountability, a lack of due process and a lack of restraints on government authority. Civil forfeiture needs to end. If the government wants to take someone’s property, it should first be required to convict that person of a crime.”

In a 73-page article published in the Nevada Law Journal, David Pimentel, a law professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, laid out the case against civil forfeiture.

“Given the dubious policies behind facilitating property forfeitures, and the due process problems inherent in carrying them out, the more potent question is whether facilitating property forfeitures should be allowed at all,” writes Pimentel. “If the taking of such property is to be justified, or even tolerated, it must be for the most compelling public policy purposes, none of which can be demonstrated for facilitating property forfeitures.”

Let’s hope SB138 breezes through the legislative process and the governor signs it into law.

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.