Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010 | 11:20 a.m.
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People who can lawfully possess firearms can now take their loaded guns into Nevada's state parks under a legal agreement approved Tuesday.
Attorneys for the Nevada Attorney General's office, representing the state park system, agreed in a lawsuit stipulation that the parks will stop enforcing a law that critics said generally barred park visitors from possessing loaded firearms -- even for self defense.
The agreement is valid for one year and will give the parks system a chance to amend its regulations so they comply with the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment right to possess firearms, said James Manley, an attorney for the Mountain States Legal Foundation who was involved in the litigation.
The agreement came after the Colorado-based legal foundation filed suit in federal court in Nevada in July challenging a law that allowed visitors to bring guns into state parks, but only if they were unloaded and locked in vehicles.
Exceptions under the code protect gun owners carrying the weapon in conformity with a state concealed weapons permit or gun owners hunting in an authorized area.
The plaintiff, Idaho outdoorsman Al Baker, didn't fall under those exceptions and said in the suit he was threatened with six months' jail time if he fired his gun in Nevada state parks -- even in self defense.
"The Supreme Court’s ruling that the Second Amendment applies to the states via the 14th Amendment makes it clear that the Nevada law is unconstitutional and must be stricken," William Perry Pendley, president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, said in a July statement announcing the lawsuit.
In announcing the lawsuit, Pendley cited the U.S. Supreme Court's June 28 ruling striking down a Chicago ordinance banning handgun ownership and finding "the right to keep and bear arms [is] among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty."
A spokesman for the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, parent agency of the Nevada Division of State Parks, today said the agency didn't have any comment on the litigation. State parks in the Las Vegas area are the Valley of Fire, Spring Mountain Ranch and Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort.
The agreement was filed in court Sept. 14 by attorneys for the plaintiff and the state and was signed off on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Edward C. Reed Jr. in Reno.
The agreement said the Parks Division's planned rulemaking "may result in changes to Nevada Administrative Code .. that could cure defendants’ alleged deprivation of the right to keep and bear arms guaranteed by the United States Constitution."
The rulemaking may include a chance for the public to comment on the issue.
Manley said the agreement means action in the lawsuit will be put on hold for a year to give the state time to amend the code. If the code isn't amended to the satisfaction of the plaintiff, the lawsuit could continue.
The only people not allowed to carry weapons in state parks now are those who are barred from carrying such weapons anywhere in Nevada -- for instance because of a criminal conviction or court order, he said.
The Mountain States Legal Foundations says it is a nonprofit, public interest law firm dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government and economic freedom.