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August 1, 2015

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Q&A: Rand Paul on guns, pot, drones and his potential 2016 presidential bid

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Charles Dharapak / AP

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Road to Majority Conference luncheon in Washington, Thursday, June 13, 2013.

Rand Paul

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 14, 2013.  Launch slideshow »

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was recently calledthe most interesting man in the political world.

And he’s coming to Las Vegas this week.

The first stop for the 50-year-old senator is Freedom Fest, an annual festival that bills itself as a place where free minds meet in “the world’s most libertarian city.”

While he’s here, Paul will also also attend a fundraiser for the Nevada Republican Party — a strategic move in an early primary state for a man mulling a run for president in 2016.

The son of former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, Rand Paul has been a familiar face in the news this year as he railed against the federal drone program, promoted a class-action lawsuit against the National Security Agency for its email and telephone monitoring program, and criticized what he calls unwarranted military interventions in foreign countries.

In the run-up to his Las Vegas visit, Paul spoke with the Sun about drones, guns, immigrants, marijuana, the economy, and the federal government:

What messages are you hoping to convey to Las Vegas-area Republicans and to Nevadans in general?

I think the party needs to be bigger. We need to be more inclusive. If we're going to win elections, Nevada is a prime example of where we need to attract people of all different races, particularly Hispanics in Nevada, to consider the Republican Party.

Are you running for president? You have a 2016 website.

Our 2016 website refers to my re-election campaign for Senate, but I am thinking about whether or not I will run for president at that time. I haven't made my mind up yet. I will probably make that decision in 2014.

One thing that's made Nevada a swing state has been the growth of its minority populations, namely the Hispanic and Asian populations. What sort of appeal do you have to these voting blocs as you consider a 2016 presidential bid?

I think young people of all races are interested in justice; maybe not so much taxes and regulations, but they're interested in justice and the right to privacy on the Internet. My defense against unreasonable searches by the NSA (National Security Agency), my position that we should be reluctant to go to war, that we should treat war as a last resort — I think these are things that appeal to young people.

Nobody should be sent indefinitely into detention, everybody should have their day in court. I think all of these things should appeal to many people who feel that government doesn't treat people fairly. The government has a history of not treating people fairly, from the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II to African-Americans in the Civil Rights era.

Speaking of that era, you made some now-famous comments about the Civil Rights Act and you were labeled a racist. How do you feel about that law?

I think people on the left who want to damage you are always trying to call you something that you're not. There's no greater defender of minority rights on Capitol Hill than myself. (On MSNBC’s "The Rachel Maddow Show" in 2010) I asked questions whether it (Civil Rights Act) should be justified by the 14th Amendment or the Interstate Commerce Clause.

Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada both recently voted in favor of the comprehensive immigration reform bill. Why did you make your border security amendment the paramount issue in your decision not to vote for the bill?

Well, one, I think that it's hard for a lot of conservatives to trust that the government will do what it says it's going to do. If we have to place our trust in the president that the border is secure, then that trust may be misplaced because the president and many in his administration say the border is already secure.

One of the things the bill has to do to work is it has to expand legal immigration and it needs to at the same time prevent people from coming in illegally, and one of the ways we do that is expand the work visa program, which is a legitimate and legal way for people to come to the country and is a deterrent to illegal immigration. This bill, unfortunately, would limit agricultural work visas.

I was for more expansive work visas as a way to try to convince people to come in legally.

This might be a stretch, but it’s a semi-agricultural question. Do you support legal marijuana?

I support the right of the states to make the decision. I personally think that marijuana use is not healthy. People that use it chronically have a loss of IQ and a loss of ambition, but at the same time states have the right to make these decisions.

As you know, the Las Vegas area has been at or near last in the nation when it comes to foreclosures and the unemployment rate. What's the federal government's role in getting this region on the road to economic recovery?

First of all, you have to figure out how we got in this huge housing collapse. It was because of the federal government's involvement in the economy and Federal Reserve policy and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I blame the federal government for keeping interest rates too low for too long and in doing so they encouraged a false illusion of wealth. They created the bubble and the market created the bust.

I think the federal government's role (in an economic recovery) would be to fix all the problems that got us into this mess. No. 1, the federal government should stop manipulating interest rates. Another thing the federal government can do is make sure banks treat people honestly.

You made headlines with a filibuster against the federal government's drone program. How do you feel about Nevada's bid to attract a federal drone program to Nevada?

Don't get me started. I think that drones are so invasive of someone's privacy that we have to be very careful and very strict about what we allow the government to do. I don't believe in this policy of open lands that says that any land outside of your house, you don't have an expectation of privacy.

If you live in a house and outside have a barbebcue and pool and hot tub, I don't think the federal government can fly drones over your house. I am concerned the FBI is using them. I'm concerned the EPA is using them. I'm concerned the Department of Interior is probably using them.

But there are uses for drones in the military. I'm not against using drones to kill our enemies. So if our military needs drones to kill our enemies, I don't have a problem with that program coming to NV.

In response to a gun background check bill that died in the Senate this year, Sen. Reid recently vowed to bring back the private party gun sale bill that would mandate background checks. Would you support it, and what type of gun legislation would you like to see pass through the Senate?

I supported the Republican alternative, which would have said you’re a felon and if you try to buy a gun we'd convict you. We are not doing a very good job as a country with the current background checks we have.

I didn't see anything in this bill that would've helped save any of the lives at Newtown. We should seriously consider things that should save lives in gun-free zones. Maybe we announce to (shooters) that teachers and principals are allowed to have concealed carry permits, that if you come in here trying to shoot school kids, that you may be shot in the process.

Guns are a deterrent.

Are you still concerned that such a bill would create a national de facto gun registry?

Right now the current background checks are through gun sellers that have a license. If you want to get background checks in all private sales, the only way to determine that would be to have a registry of every person and all purchases of weapons, and that would have to be cataloged in some sort of national registry.

Really, having a gun registry and having to rely on the government to keep it secret, the government isn't so great at keeping confidences.

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