I-Team: Nevada Less Restrictive on Gun Control

Ed. Note: The national debate about gun violence and gun control has generated strong emotions on all sides following the recent tragedies in Connecticut and Colorado. Should Americans' Second Amendment rights be restricted in the interests of public safety, or is gun violence something that no law could curb? This is Part 6 of Guns of Nevada.

The Second Amendment gives all Americans the right to keep and bear arms, but how you keep them and where you bear them can differ dramatically depending on where you live.

Nevada is widely considered one of the least restrictive states when it comes to gun laws. For example, Nevada has no state gun registry. Only Clark County requires gun registration and only for handguns. Nevada also has no restrictions on the types of guns a person can own and few rules about where someone can carry them. Some say it's a reflection of the state's Wild West roots.

The gun fight at the O.K. Corral, which has been dramatized in several movies, began as an effort to enforce Tombstone, Arizona's local gun laws, according to some historians.

"Why did they fight the gunfight at the O.K. Corral? The Clanton's wouldn't give up their guns," said historian Dr. Michael Green, College of Southern Nevada.

He explains, like Arizona, Nevada's history includes varying degrees of gun control. In some cases, it was more restrictive than what is on the books today.

"I open carry all the time," said Cindy Mayhew, an open carry enthusiast.

In Nevada, anyone who can legally own a firearm may carry it openly. On a Friday night on Fremont Street, Mayhew joins a group of gun enthusiasts actively exercising their Second Amendment rights.

"The more people see people open carrying, the more comfortable they are and the more aware they are that it's an option," she said.

The predominantly tourist crowd seems largely unaware of the armed activists. Those who do notice, get a civics lesson from the group's unofficial ambassador, David Stillwell.

"We do this quite often. We come down here or the Strip because the cops used to not allow it," Stillwell said.

On this night, a Metro Police escort shadows the group's every move, not to interfere insists the sergeant, but to keep the peace.

"I remember the days when I started open carrying and a guy was arrested for an empty holster. So we've come along way," Stillwell said.

In sharp contrast to the open carry crowd, dozens of people fill a classroom at The Gun Store to satisfy one requirement of Nevada's concealed-carry weapons permit. It's available to adults at least 21 years old -- with a clean criminal record -- who demonstrate competence with a handgun.

"If you legally have the right to own a gun, why not have the right to carry it," said Heather Lelescu.

She is among those enrolled in the free session. The class is always full.

"We're getting a huge increase in the number of people getting permits," said Bob Irwin, The Gun Store.

According to the Metro Police, more than 37,000 Clark County residents have concealed-carry permits. it's a number that has steadily increased year to year.

"This latest bump has to be related to the gun legislation at the federal level but I don't really see the direct connection," he said.

Indeed the national gun debate prompted Lelescu to pull the trigger, so to speak.

"With all the laws that might be going into place, I think it's the smartest thing to do it now as opposed to waiting," she said.

And after nine hours in the classroom and a few minutes on the range, Lelescu may apply for the permit to arm herself discreetly.

"I intend to carry a firearm on me, a compact weapon on me at all times. I just feel safer," she said.

Lawmakers this session have a number of bill drafts related to guns. Among them is a bill to permit guns on campus, a proposal to expand the mental health information available for background checks and a plan to create consistency among local gun ordinances.

An exclusive 8 News NOW poll found that 60 percent of Nevadans surveyed believe stricter gun laws are needed.


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