Rural Nevada Democrats cope with ugly tenor of gun control debate

by Brian Bahouth

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signs Senate Bill 143 into law, a measure that would implement an enhanced system of gun safety background checks in Nevada - image - the Office of Governor Steve Sisolak.

Reno – Senate Bill 143 was intended to close the background check loophole for private gun sales and transfers in Nevada, and since Governor Steve Sisolak signed the measure into law on February 15, many of Nevada’s rural counties have been in revolt.

For some background, in 2016, Ballot Question 1 passed a popular vote in Nevada and would have prohibited the sale of guns between individuals in the state without conducting a background check, but following the election, Nevada Attorney General at the time, Adam Laxalt, issued an opinion that rendered the voter approved law “unenforceable” for lack of administrative support and resources from the federal and state governments, and thereby, the “unenforceable” status meant citizens could not be prosecuted for not complying with the act. Former Governor Brian Sandoval supported the decision.

In early February of 2019, SB143 passed both the Nevada Senate and Assembly on party line votes, and Democratic Governor Sisolak signed the measure on day 12 of the current legislative session. A minority in both the Assembly and Senate, Republicans complained the bill was rushed through the process following a marathon hearing laden with fiery testimony both for and against.

The language of the new law is all but the same as Ballot Question 1 except for the agency designated to do the background checks. The new statute nullifies Ballot Question 1 and establishes a new system of in-state background checks for all commercial transfers of firearms. The new statewide system is set to take effect on January 2, 2020.

Revolt

In Elko today, the Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution proclaiming the county to be a “Sanctuary County for the Second Amendment.”  The resolution goes on to affirm “its support of the duly elected Elko County Sheriff in the exercise of his sound discretion to not enforce any unconstitutional firearms laws against any citizen.”

On March 18, Lincoln County became a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County”

White Pine County became a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County” on March 15.

On March 14, following hours of passionate comment and debate, the Douglas County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted for a resolution that “opposes any state legislation which exceeds federal firearm transfer requirements or infringes on the United States Constitution or Article I, Section 11 of the Constitution of the State of Nevada.”

On March 11, Nye County became a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County.”  Also note, Nye County Resolution 2019-12 is missing from the list of resolutions.

Kimi Cole is chair the Douglas County Democratic Central Committee and chair of the Rural Nevada Democratic Caucus and said misinformation is fueling a hysteria among Republicans in Douglas County.

“When they hear what I consider misinformation coming from certain directions, it’s like this party wants to take everything away from you, and it works up into a hysteria that’s actually dangerous,” Cole said during a phone interview.

“I personally don’t know anybody who wants to take anyone’s guns,” Cole continued. “I’ve been a shooter and hunter well over 50 years of my life. It’s part of my life. It’s part of a lot of people’s lives, and we just look for violent criminals not to have such easy access to guns. We would like people who have been convicted of terrible crimes not to have access to the guns and such, and it’s really pretty simple how I see it and most people see it. We just want to keep the most dangerous of the people from having that access to guns. Statistically they found that, convicted felons, many gun purchases have been stopped by a simple background check, so I think that there’s a truth on both sides to see if we’ll be able to find it and coexist.”

The tenor of the debate in rural counties has reportedly been rancorous, and Cole said the Douglas County debate on the new gun safety background check law was a verbal brawl, yet she is working to build empathy among those who oppose the enhanced background check and tighter gun controls in general.

“One of the officials I spoke with, we kind of put it in a perspective. Firstly, I do not know how I would handle getting that unthinkable call when one of my children or grandchildren wouldn’t be coming home tonight. The person on the other side, it just stopped him in his tracks momentarily, and he said, ‘I never thought of it. I don’t know how I would deal with it either.’

“To take somebody that maybe was right there in Las Vegas on 1 October. You know the carnage and the terrible situation that is just really hard to imagine. The question I ask is, if none of us can imagine what it would be like to get one of those horrible calls that we would never want to get, then is it  possible that we can see that perspective through somebody’s eyes has gotten one of those horrible, unthinkable calls,” Cole said.

Relations between Democrats and Republicans in many rural Nevada counties has never been warm, but in recent years, and especially since the new background check law was passed, relations are more polarized than ever, and Cole said social media and a lack of individual-to-individual communication is partly responsible for further souring the political climate in rural Nevada.

“If we could have a conversation and say what is really going on here. What is really the issue. I think we would get a lot further than it would be just posting hateful memes out there on social media that says ‘we are this and we hate anybody else that’s different, and that’s where it gets kind of dangerous buying into the hype and exaggerations that are put out there in a lot of cases. They really do damage to all of us.”

The Douglas County Democrats will hold their annual dinner gala on Saturday March 30 in the Carson Valley Inn and will feature speakers Attorney General Aaron Ford, State Treasurer Zach Conine and State Controller Catherine Byrne. For Cole and other nearby rural Nevada Democrats in Carson City, Lyon, and Churchill County, the Douglas County annual gathering helps unify Democrats who might otherwise feel politically insignificant and isolated, and in the context of the culture war simmering between urban and rural Nevada, Cole said it’s a good time for team building among rural Nevada Democrats.

“A lot of the time it’s too easy to feel like geez we’re so far outnumbered that our voices don’t matter. Everybody here is against us. A lot of the time, bringing our Democrats together for our annual dinner is just a matter of people getting together of like mind and enjoying the evening and talking to friends and realizing that they are not alone in the world, so I think it’s important for camaraderie, for team-building, and a lot of the time it gives us the opportunity to spread direct information compared to what might be floating around on social media.

“I get so many circumstances where I’ll see, ok, this is circulating around with these opinions, and I know first-hand, for a fact, that this isn’t how things are going on and I like to dispel the myths so to speak, and this (the annual dinner) gives us another opportunity to speak to people openly and have private conversations and even speak in front of a crowd, so I seize the opportunity from a lot of different perspectives.”

On a state-wide level, Kimi Cole said the Democratic Party of Nevada will be making some changes to the 2020 caucus process in an effort to better involve and mobilize citizens in both urban and rural Nevada.

“One thing I can say is, the Nevada Democratic Party as well as the DNC, I can truly say that they have been listening, and as any organization, they do not want to repeat mistakes, so there are some major changes to the caucus process for 2020 in the works where it will allow a longer period of voting time. We figure we live in a 24-7 society, and saying everybody has to be available during this four hour window on one day every four years to participate in our democracy is really outmoded and ridiculous, so we’re going to lengthen it. There is the potential to combine it with what a lot of the people will call the firehouse caucus who want to just walk in and have their vote counted and are not interested to go on to be a national delegate, so they can show, effectively cast their ballot for their choice, go on about their business, and for people who would like to participate further, say at the national convention as a delegate, then they will go through a more traditional delegate process, so it’s opening up to more people to make it a more pleasant, effective experience for the most people possible.”