Las Vegas Sun

February 13, 2016

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Political Memo:

Gun rights could become issue in Heller-Berkley race

Gun rights legislation set off a donnybrook between lawmakers during the 2011 session.

But the debate didn’t focus on the substance of the bill to expand Nevadans’ right to bear arms. Rather, a state senator and the speaker of the Assembly both wanted credit for the legislation and traded heated statements over who was the most fervent supporter of those rights.

The fact that both were Democrats was, in pro-gun Nevada, not surprising.

In Nevada politics, being pro-gun is almost a given. You’re either for the Second Amendment or really, really for the Second Amendment.

Anything with the slightest scent of gun control is the third rail of Nevada politics.

The recent controversy over the nomination to the federal bench of District Court Judge Elissa Cadish has underscored that fact while also threatening to inject the issue into the race for U.S. Senate, where Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Las Vegas, is challenging Republican Sen. Dean Heller.

Heller put a hold on Cadish’s nomination over her answer on a 2008 candidate questionnaire, first reported by Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston.

She was asked by a conservative group: “Do you believe the individual citizen has a constitutional right to keep and bear arms?

“I do not believe this is a constitutional right,” she wrote in response. “Thus, I believe that reasonable restrictions may be imposed on gun ownership in the interest of public safety. Of course, I will enforce the laws as they exist as a judge.”

Cadish released a statement saying she was offering her personal opinion based on the legal standard at the time. (Later in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down some gun control laws, finding that the Second Amendment did extend the right to bear arms to individual citizens.)

Still, Heller’s hold on Cadish remains, which means, by Senate custom, her nomination will not move forward.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who recommended Cadish, has not asked her to withdraw, Ralston reported.

Given it’s her opponent taking this stand, that leaves the issue dangling there for Berkley.

Her response has been to remain neutral.

“Judge Cadish is a personal friend of Congresswoman Berkley, who deeply respects her judicial ability and service,” the Democratic party said in a statement. “However, it would not be appropriate for Congresswoman Berkley to weigh in on a pending judicial nomination without all the information afforded to a sitting senator.”

Asked to clarify her position on Cadish at a Reno campaign event Thursday, Berkley pointed to that statement and noted that she said she supports the Second Amendment.

Asked whether she thinks the Second Amendment extends to individuals, she said, “I think the Supreme Court has decided that.”

So far, Heller has declined to press Berkley on this issue. His campaign declined to comment for this story.

So Berkley’s opaque position on Cadish’s nomination remains open to interpretation.

Take, for example, the read from Don Turner, president of the Nevada Firearms Coalition, which is the NRA affiliate in Nevada, which has 36,000 members in the state.

Turner said he is “very pleased” with Heller’s opposition to the Cadish nomination.

Asked about Berkley, he noted she was a co-sponsor, with Reid and former Sen. John Ensign, of legislation that transferred 2,900 acres of federal land to Clark County for a shooting park.

“She comes across to the gun community as pro-Constitution, at least as far as the Second Amendment is concerned,” Turner said.

Unless, that is, Heller tries to make political hay of Cadish.

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