Las Vegas Sun

August 24, 2019

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Sun editorial:

Protecting Las Vegans means supporting reasonable gun policies

In a recent interview with the Sun, Sheriff Joe Lombardo said he loses sleep “wondering if we’re doing everything possible to protect our children, protect our community.”

There’s no reason to doubt the sincerity of that comment. Lombardo clearly takes his responsibility to protect and serve the people of Southern Nevada seriously, as he showed most vividly during the minutes, days and weeks after the Oct. 1 shooting.

But when asked later in the interview whether he’d support legislation to increase gun safety in Nevada, Lombardo demurred. He declined to give support for broad measures — bans on sales of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, for instance — and said he’d have to look at specific bills to decide whether to back them.

His caution isn’t unreasonable, but here’s hoping that if and when pragmatic gun legislation comes to the table in the upcoming legislative session, Lombardo puts his full weight behind it.

Let’s be clear: Unless Nevadans adopt laws to help curb the nation’s epidemic of gun violence, we’re not doing everything possible to protect our kids or anybody else.

Las Vegas residents made it clear during the 2016 election that they want safer gun laws, voting in favor of a ballot measure to expand background checks for firearms purchases. The margin was wide enough in Clark County that it passed statewide even though voters in Nevada’s other 16 counties rejected it.

Lombardo, notably, was the only one of Nevada’s 17 sheriffs who didn’t support the measure. However, he stayed neutral on it, saying he was concerned about the wording of the question.

His concerns have since been borne out, as a Clark County judge cited issues with the wording in ruling this year against plaintiffs who had sued to force the state to carry out the measure, but Southern Nevadans will be watching Lombardo closely entering the 2019 legislative session to see whether he supports their demands for gun safety measures.

As much as any Americans, Clark County residents understand the critical need to address the issue. As the anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting approaches, we continue to grieve those whose lives were lost, those who lost family members and friends, and those who witnessed the horror.

We also continue to honor the law enforcement officers and first responders who put themselves in harm’s way to protect others.

But gun violence in Southern Nevada didn’t end on Oct. 2. The number of homicides in the valley — many involving firearms — is up significantly on a year-to-year basis.

Meanwhile, there’s been one fatal shooting near a North Las Vegas high school this school year, and at least six guns have been seized in or near Clark County schools.

The rash of gun incidents prompted the Clark County School District to create a school safety advisory committee, which follows similar actions by Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt.

But hardening schools as targets is only one avenue toward increasing safety. (Not to mention that it’s a costly one, requiring such expenses as the hiring of security officers and special equipment, and that some elements — arming teachers, most notably — have been met with hard opposition.)

Any discussion about school safety needs to include legislation to keep guns out of the wrong people’s hands — as the background check question was designed to do — and decrease the amount of deadly firepower available to civilian buyers. That applies not only to assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, but things like tracer rounds and silencers, both of which can currently be purchased legally.

Which brings us back to Lombardo. The sheriff, who is about to enter his second term, has shown repeatedly that he’s conscientious about Metro’s mission.

Going into the 2019 session, however, he needs to be ready to protect local residents in another way — by being their champion on good gun policy.