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October 25, 2014

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public safety:

Why your friends might be packing a concealed gun

Concealed weapon permit holders say personal safety is No. 1 reason

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Chris Morris / Special to the Sun

SO, YOU WANT A PERMIT?

Nevada is one of 37 “shall issue” states, meaning sheriffs are required to issue concealed weapon permits as long as the applicants meet the following requirements in the law:

• Be at least 21

• Demonstrate competence with each weapon included on the permit

• Have no outstanding warrants

• Be free of any felony or weapons-related convictions

• Be a legal resident of the United States

• Not have been declared incompetent or insane

• Not habitually use alcohol or a controlled substance to impair normal faculties

Where guns are banned:

Schools and universities, unless written permission is obtained, all federal buildings, courthouses, airports, private property where it’s posted that firearms are not allowed

Summerlin Costco Shooting

Metro crime scene investigators, officers and detectives mill about the entrance of the Costco store in Summerlin after the shooting July 10, 2010. Launch slideshow »
Sig Rogich

Sig Rogich

Click to enlarge photo

Mike Stern, a Vietnam veteran, says he carries a firearm because criminals might view him as an easy target. Wheelchair users he knows have been crime victims.

Click to enlarge photo

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, is a retired law enforcement officer who says permit holders must be sure to keep their weapons concealed in public.

Erik Scott rarely left home without a gun tucked in his waistband.

Concerned about his safety while on call at night to service the pacemakers he sold, Scott decided this year to join more than 34,000 Clark County residents who have obtained concealed weapon permits.

“There are a lot of us who are CCW carriers — first and foremost for safety,” Scott’s friend and co-worker Chris Castillo said last week. “He and I used to have long discussions about it. We take calls as pacemaker reps, and we’re out at all times of the night in all areas of Las Vegas.

“During times of recession, you have rising crime in areas you wouldn’t normally find crime.”

Scott was shot to death last month, but not by a criminal intending to harm him. A confrontation with police left him dead at the entrance to a Costco in the west valley. A store employee had spotted Scott’s concealed firearm and reported to police that he was acting erratically.

On that Saturday afternoon, as many as 900 people might have been shopping at the Summerlin Costco at any time. If that were the case, 17 other shoppers could have been carrying a gun inside the store when Scott was shot, based on the percentage of Clark County residents who have concealed weapon permits.

A Sun analysis of records recently made public by order of the Nevada Supreme Court shows people from many professions and backgrounds are authorized to carry concealed weapons in Clark County: Politicians, casino moguls and mothers. State lawmakers, doctors and retired police officers. Journalists, lawyers and business owners.

Most permit holders interviewed by the Sun said they applied for permits — as Scott did — in pursuit of a sense of safety. Most had not received a specific threat. But some feared violence from a disgruntled employee; others worried about what they perceived as an increase in home invasions.

Mike Stern, a paralyzed Vietnam veteran who uses a wheelchair, said criminals might think he is an easy victim, so he chooses to arm himself.

“We’ve had a lot of our people who have been attacked,” Stern said of other wheelchair users. “That’s why I did it.”

Some permit holders said the recession had them more worried about violence. Others described themselves as gun enthusiasts who had applied for the privilege of secretly carrying a weapon but rarely used it.

No one interviewed said they had drawn their concealed weapon.

“I never have,” said Sig Rogich, the high-profile political consultant who said among the reasons he got the permit is to remain safe when leaving the office late at night. “I hope it never gets that far.”

Permit holders differed on how and when they carried their weapons. Some said they hadn’t carried in years; others said they don’t leave home without it.

“I haven’t carried it yet in a public setting,” said a Las Vegas mother whose husband is a high-profile business executive. She asked to remain anonymous because she worried for her safety if the public learned she has a permit.

For each, the decision to obtain a permit was intensely personal. Many, like the Las Vegas mother, balked at the idea the public could learn of their permits despite the court’s ruling that it is a public record.

“You’re supposed to be able to carry it so that nobody knows you have it,” she said. “The law is written so you really have to conceal it from physical sight. The logical expectation would be that it would not be known you have a gun.”

The Sun obtained the names of all permit holders in the state’s most populous counties, Clark and Washoe, but elected not to publish the names unless the permit holders agreed to on-the-record interviews.

Indeed, debate has raged in many states as courts have weighed the public’s right to know who the government has granted permits to carry hidden weapons against individuals’ desire to keep it secret.

The recent Nevada Supreme Court decision, prompted by a 2007 Reno Gazette-Journal investigation into Gov. Jim Gibbons’ fraudulent application for a permit, has unleashed a backlash in Northern Nevada.

(A friend of Gibbons, who is a weapons instructor, signed the required form stating that the governor had demonstrated proficiency on each weapon for which he was issued a permit. In fact, Gibbons had only demonstrated he was proficient on seven of the nine pistols he was granted permits to conceal.)

Permit holders were notified by the Washoe County sheriff that their names had been released to a Sun reporter. A Reno conservative talk-show host spent no fewer than four hours on the air taking angry calls and e-mails from permit holders. The National Rifle Association responded, promising a push to make the names of permit holders confidential during the 2011 Legislature.

“Absolutely I would support that,” said Krys Bart, executive director of the Washoe County Airport Authority, who has had a permit for a year. “I felt that my rights were violated” when the court released the names of concealed weapon permit holders.

Relative ease of obtaining a permit

Nevada is one of 37 “shall issue” states, meaning if you want to carry a hidden weapon, the state will allow it unless you don’t qualify for several possible reasons. As a result, it’s relatively easy to get a concealed weapon permit.

Pass a safety course. Prove you can shoot. Don’t be a felon, have been admitted to a mental health hospital in the past five years or addicted to drugs or alcohol in the same time frame, and the sheriff must issue you one.

By contrast, some states prohibit carrying concealed weapons altogether. Others, such as California, allow local officials wide discretion in issuing permits. That has led to a lopsided number of permits from state to state.

For example, in Los Angeles County, which has four times the population of Clark County, 1,237 people had permits in 2007, the most recent statistics available.

Yet despite the ease of obtaining permits in Nevada, and its Western, pro-gun traditions, the per capita rate for concealed weapons in Clark and Washoe counties — 18 per 1,000 and 26 per 1,000, respectively — is close, if even a bit lower, than counties in other “shall issue” states.

In Salt Lake County, 40 people in 1,000 have a permit. In Miami-Dade County, 28 per 1,000 have a permit.

The most significant factor in the number of permits is the ease of obtaining one, according to John Lott, a researcher who wrote the controversial book “More Guns, Less Crime.” The higher the permit fee, required training hours and other restrictions, the fewer permits.

Pennsylvania has more than double the number of permits as Texas, despite being a much less populous state, according to Lott’s research. Pennsylvania doesn’t require training to obtain a permit.

Nevada is about average for the rigor of its requirements, Lott said. In Clark County, it costs $100.25 for a permit. An eight-hour safety class must be completed in which applicants are instructed on how to safely handle their weapons and state laws on where they can be carried and when they can be used.

The Silver State is unusual in requiring permit holders to demonstrate competence on each weapon on the permit, Lott said.

Requirements are key to the number of applicants, but crime rates and political trends also affect the number. Concern that Democrats will tighten gun laws prompted a spike in permits in 2008, Lott said. The unemployment rate and recession likely could play roles as well.

“My husband is a visible person,” the Las Vegas mother who wished to remain anonymous said. “Times are very difficult and that puts people under an enormous amount of stress. My husband is in a difficult job where he may not be able to make everyone happy.”

She also said she feared federal laws would be passed under the Democratic majority in Congress making it more difficult to carry a firearm.

Kitty Jung, a Washoe County commissioner, said she obtained her permit in 2008 because she wanted added protection when going to night meetings. She also said threats from citizens attending commission meetings made her uncomfortable.

“There was no one special event,” Jung said. “But certainly something that made me a lot more conscious of my safety were some of the citizen threats that the county commission, as a whole, had received. It’s sort of in conjunction with becoming a public official.”

Last year, a man who regularly went to commission meetings to angrily denounce its work was arrested on charges of stalking and harassing a county commissioner.

Erik Scott’s encounter with police

Erik Scott Vigil

Miles Plannette carries his gun Tuesday during a candlelight vigil for Erik Scott, who was killed outside a Summerlin Costco by Metro Police last month. Launch slideshow »

Permit holders interviewed by the Sun said they take great care to keep their weapons concealed from view.

Scott’s case is unusual — permit holders in Nevada are rarely engaged by police.

Although the facts are still being sorted out, this much is clear: An employee saw his weapon, believed he was acting erratically in the store and called police.

Details after that are less clear. As customers evacuated the store, Scott encountered officers at its entrance. Officers shouted orders — perhaps to drop his weapon, perhaps to get on the ground.

Some witnesses say Scott put his hand on his gun. Others say he pointed it at officers.

The encounter ended with three officers firing at Scott from close range.

Scott’s family and friends claim he never pointed his gun at officers. They are eager to see surveillance video of the incident. Metro Police continue to investigate the shooting, and a coroner’s inquest has been indefinitely postponed.

Permit holders interviewed by the Sun admitted that they worry a misunderstanding could arise if someone spotted their weapon in public. They said they are taught “concealed means concealed” and are assiduous about keeping their guns out of sight.

“Any person who says they never have that concern (about a weapon being spotted) should not have a permit,” said Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, a retired a law enforcement officer who has had a concealed weapon permit since he moved to Nevada. “You should always be aware of your surroundings and be concerned a misunderstanding could occur.”

Although he doesn’t know for certain, Castillo said he thinks Scott was wearing a pair of designer jeans with a low-cut waist, which allowed his weapon to be glimpsed.

Castillo said he had warned Scott that his gun could be seen when he wore the pants. Scott’s girlfriend told Castillo he was opening a box of canteens when the gun was spotted.

“My suspicion is he was probably wearing those jeans and the handle portion of the gun was visible,” Castillo said. “What goes through my mind is he bent over to check if the canteens fit in his bag, the employee saw the handle and then it just spirals downward from there.”

In permit safety classes, instructors go over how permit holders should behave if confronted by police.

During a traffic stop, an officer has usually run the motorist’s name and likely knows the person has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. But if a situation escalates — for example, if someone reports a permit holder as a gunman — experts advise following the police officer’s instructions to the letter.

“You do what the police tell you to do,” Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick said. “If they tell you to drop it, drop it. If they tell you to get on your face, get on your face. Now is not the time to have a philosophical discussion about your rights.”

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