Fight to Ban Firearms From Certain Casinos

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Associated Press
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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — An attempt to crack down on firearms in resorts and casinos is dividing Democrats in the Nevada statehouse, pitting gun violence prevention advocates against activists concerned about heavy-handed policing and racial profiling.

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A state Senate committee passed a measure Saturday to strengthen penalties and make it up to a gross misdemeanor to bring guns into certain resorts and casinos where they are prohibited.

Under current law, if resort security confronts an armed person to tell them that firearms are not permitted on the premises and that person refuses to leave, they can call local law enforcement on them for trespassing. The policy would allow resort security to call law enforcement on visitors suspected of carrying the weapons in firearm-free zones to report trespassing without having to give them a verbal warning.

Provisions would only apply to large resorts and casinos that choose to opt in and would require they post clear signs about where guns aren’t allowed both on their premises and on their websites.

Sen. Melanie Scheible, a Las Vegas Democrat, said it made sense to enforce firearms bans in large casinos similar to how they are enforced in schools and public libraries given their importance to Nevada and its economy.

“We should be paying special attention to the resorts, the casinos, the hotels, and all of the places that people come from all over the world to see, and ensure that they can be safe while they are there. We should be able to allow facilities to have this increased and improved amount of safety on their properties,” she said.

Three-and-a-half years after Las Vegas experienced the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, casinos and unions representing their workers argue that law enforcement officers — rather than resort security — are better equipped to be the first to respond to visitors carrying guns where they are not allowed.

The Oct. 1, 2017, massacre killed 58 people. Last year, a court approved an $800 million settlement from MGM Resorts International and its insurers to victims and their relatives.

“At the point at which we become aware that an individual is violating policy, we should be able to engage with Metro; we should be able to engage with law enforcement in order to give assistance to remove that person from the property,” MGM Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Ayesha Molino told lawmakers.

Molino said that calling law enforcement on visitors openly carrying firearms would be one among many tactics that resorts could use to maintain a safe environment and likely not be used in every instance allowed under the bill. That provoked resistance from gun rights and police reform advocates worried about the rules being applied unevenly and conflicts escalating after police are called.

Republicans and Democrats opposed to the bill said enforcing trespassing provisions without warning people they are violating the law could harm law-abiding citizens, particularly people of color.

“I am very concerned about what I believe this leads to, which is ‘Stop and Frisk,’” Las Vegas Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong said. “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 are going to be the ones that the police are called on.”

Scheible said officers would still be required to follow laws prohibiting excessive searches and seizures. “This has not changed the amount of reasonable suspicion or probable cause that an officer has to have in order to stop somebody,” she said.

Gun-related legislation routinely divides lawmakers along party lines and draws fiery support and opposition in Carson City. On Saturday, powerful interest groups, including MGM Resorts and the Culinary Union Local 226, testified in favor of the proposal. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department representatives testified as neutral to the proposal.

But an atypical coalition of interest groups testified against the gun proposal considered Saturday. Groups that push police reform — the ACLU of Nevada and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada — found themselves on the same side as gun rights groups like the NRA and police unions, which said the proposal could create unnecessary and dangerous confrontations between people and law enforcement.

The measure now heads to the state Assembly, where it faces a steeper climb. A similar proposal was amended out of a bill introduced earlier in the legislative session after the chamber’s Democratic leaders couldn’t whip enough to support it. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn May 31.

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