Las Vegas massacre survivor pushes bill to curtail do-it-yourself ‘ghost guns’

Items including firearms, a jig used for making ghost guns and drug paraphernalia were recovered during a search warrant served in Barstow on Wednesday, July 29, 2020.

CARSON CITY — A proposal to ban build-your-own weapons known as “ghost guns” is sparking passionate for-and-against arguments in the Nevada Legislature, just over three years after Las Vegas experienced the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

A bill to ban the possession and sale of homemade firearms introduced on Monday had drawn nearly 2,100 opinions on the Legislature’s website by Thursday — more than any other bill this session.

“As weapons become more advanced and as they become easier to make at home, we must also adapt our laws,” Emily Woodall, a Las Vegas resident, told lawmakers during a first hearing Wednesday on the measure. 

Woodall testified by phone that she’s a gun owner but learned from the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado and the Las Vegas shooting that “the threat of gun violence was and is real.”

Bruce Parks said the law would have no effect on crime rates. He identified himself as founder of a group called Nevada Patriot and secretary of Battle Born Patriots, a political action committee that has advocated for the recall of Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak.

“You do not make criminals harmless by making good citizens helpless,” he declared.

Democrats control both the Assembly and Senate, where Sen. Melanie Scheible, chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will hear the proposal if it clears the Assembly.

Scheible, a Clark County prosecutor when not at the Legislature, termed the ability to buy gun parts online and assemble them at home “a whole new industry that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago.”

“To turn a blind eye to it would be foolish,” she said Thursday. “We have to talk about it in a way that is practical and realistic.”

Backers of the law say the assembled guns don’t have serial numbers and owners don’t have to undergo a background check.

At least one Nevada manufacturer, Dayton-based Polymer80, has drawn attention from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which raided it in December, and from Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, who sued the company last month calling ghost guns “the emerging weapon of choice for criminals.”

The bill sponsor, Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, on Wednesday cited the shooting in September of two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies “by a man using a gun he built with parts from Nevada company Polymer 80.”

A Polymer 80 official, Alex Brodsky, declined Thursday to comment.

Jauregui, a Democrat, was among some 22,000 concertgoers who in October 2017 fled 10 minutes of gunfire raining into a country music festival crowd from the windows of a high-rise hotel on the Las Vegas Strip.

Fifty-eight people died that night and hundreds were injured. The deaths of at least two other people who were badly wounded have been blamed on the massacre. The gunman killed himself before police reached him. His motive was never officially determined.

Jauregui, who was at the concert with her husband and friends, told elected colleagues that their lives changed forever, Las Vegas was devastated, and the specter of violence still haunts people who were “here visiting Las Vegas to have an exciting, fun, memorable trip.” 

“Continued violent incidents have left both Nevadans and Las Vegas visitors questioning the safety of our community,” she said.

Her bill, AB 286, has backing from national gun-control groups including Moms Demand Action — a branch of Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety — and Nevada progressive organizations like Battle Born Progress.

The state’s largest law enforcement agency is neutral on the bill, although Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department lobbyist Chuck Callaway said Wednesday that officers have seen “an uptick” in the prevalence of ghost guns.

Jauregui cited several shooting incidents last year on the Strip resort corridor: near the Aria resort, inside the MGM Grand casino, outside the Miracle Mile shops at Planet Hollywood. She noted that Las Vegas police reported confiscating 64 guns during 90 days from people on the Strip, the state’s important tourism center.

Her bill would make it up to a felony to bring a gun to properties where firearms are banned — including casinos, malls, movie theaters, places of worship and stadiums. Property owners could ask police for help.

Spencer Achiu, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, student and gun rights activist, spoke against the measure and said lawmakers should instead broaden laws making it legal to carry firearms — including on campus.

Lynn Chapman, a leader with former state lawmaker Janine Hansen of a group called Nevada Families for Freedom, conceded the 2017 shooting was terrible in Las Vegas.

“But the rest of the state really doesn’t like this bill,” Chapman said.

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Ritter reported from Las Vegas. Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.