Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The gun control debate in Nevada’s Legislature has in recent decades been focused on one front: How far should the state loosen restriction on gun owners’ rights?
But now, in the wake of last week’s elementary school shooting in Connecticut and a 2011 shooting that left four dead and 14 wounded at a Carson City IHOP, one lawmaker said he wants to steer the conversation another way, addressing the “third rail” of Nevada politics.
“I think the expansion of gun rights has reached its apogee,” said Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I look forward to spending the next decade trying to limit weapons of mass destruction.”
Segerblom said he “supports reasonable restrictions on handguns and assault weapons and concealed weapons.”
His statements reflect a break from Nevada Democratic and Republican party platforms, which historically have stressed a strict adherence to the rights of gun ownership.
Support for the Second Amendment’s right of individual gun ownership has a strong history in Nevada, a libertarian political environment with a strong distrust of the federal government. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been regarded as a pro-gun lawmaker.
But on Monday, Reid called for a change in the “laws and culture that allow this violence to continue to grow” and said “every idea should be on the table as we discuss how best to do just that.” He stopped short, however, of calling for a national discussion on gun control.
In Nevada, two Democratic lawmakers fell over each other in 2011 arguing about authorship of legislation that was advocated by the National Rifle Association.
Any effort to stir up a gun control debate is sure to get a response from both sides of the aisle. Gun rights supporters packed a legislative committee meeting this summer and successfully stopped a discussion about assault weapons, pushed by Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas.
“It’s a characteristic, really, of the Western states,” said John Cahill, president of the Nevada Outdoor Democratic Caucus and elected Clark County public administrator. He suspects some Las Vegas Democrats would like to tackle the issue, but “a lot of Democrats just want to leave it alone. They know it’s a third rail. Democrats want to win everywhere.”
Cahill, who stressed he was not speaking for the Democratic Party, said gun control is not the solution to gun violence.
“They need to look for a solution to the problem, and gun control doesn’t offer a solution to the problem,” he said.
Instead, he advocates putting two police officers in each school when children are there. He said he’d be willing to pay more in taxes to do so.
Roberta Lange, chairwoman of the Nevada State Democratic Party, said Monday that it wasn’t time to talk about gun control.
“Now is the time for reflection,” she said. “Now is not the time to have that discussion.”
But Nevada had its own mass shooting last year. In September 2011, a 32-year-old with a history of mental illness walked into a Carson City IHOP and started shooting an automatic rifle. Four died and 14 were wounded, including a table of uniformed Nevada National Guard troops.
That restaurant, which remains open, is 2.4 miles from the Nevada Legislature.
Segerblom has not yet filed bill requests on gun control. When he does, he will face steep opposition from those on the other side of the debate who will call for expansion of the right of people to carry firearms.
Freshman Assemblywoman Michelle Fiore, D-Las Vegas, told journalist Jon Ralston on Friday night that she planned to move forward with a bill draft that would allow guns on college and university campuses. A similar bill failed in 2011.
Segerblom understands Nevada’s tradition of Second Amendment support.
“With Nevada’s history with hunting and ranching, there’s a legitimate use for guns. And we also have one of the most expansive concealed weapons laws in the country,” he said. “But we’ve become increasingly urbanized. We have to recognize there’s no reason to have assault weapons and concealed weapons on campuses.”