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In years since 1 October, can Nevada lawmakers do anything to stop mass shootings in the US?

Texas School Shooting
AP Photo/Eric Gay

Mourners pay their respects to the victims killed in last week's elementary school shooting, Tuesday, May 31, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas.

Less than a week after the Texas school shooting, more than a dozen mass shootings happened in the U.S. last weekend.

Two weeks ago, a man massacred 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.

We always empathize with the survivors. We grieve over the death. And we ask: Is there a way to keep it from happening again? Do we open the doors to more guns so no shooter is safe? Do we ban assault-style weapons?

So many of us asked those same questions after the 60 deaths from the Las Vegas shooting on October 1, 2017.

Liz Becker is with the Nevada chapter of Moms Demand Action. She attended a student-led anti-gun violence protest on the Las Vegas Strip this past weekend.

“They've lived their whole lives doing these drills in school and we have failed them. We have not kept kids safe. And so, I thought it was really necessary to be there. And it was inspiring to see that they're not going to let this continue,” she said.

She said when it comes to her 10-year-old daughter, she worries about where to send her for middle school. “Is she going to be safe? What is she going to see?”

She said many children her daughter’s age are thinking about the same things.

Since 2009, there have been 274 mass shootings in the U.S. that resulted in the deaths of four or more. A year before 1 October, Nevadans approved background checks.

Later that year, then-Attorney General Adam Laxalt, now running for U.S. Senate, gave the opinion that the state couldn't do background checks for private gun sales. Recently, all Republican candidates for governor said they oppose new gun laws, but that more mental health support is needed.

Becker said she agreed it’s a cultural problem, but noted Nevada has background checks on every gun sale, red flag laws and criminal safe storage.

But the big battle is doing this on the federal level, because we are only as safe as the states around us.

"And if the states around us don't have those things, then you see, like we have on the East Coast, the iron pipeline where people drive to other states to buy weapons, they come back to states that have stricter gun laws, and then they sell them on the black market.”

She does support an assault rifle ban but said it’s going to be extremely difficult.

“I think we have to work step by step and do the things that we know work … there is no reason that an 18-year-old should be able to purchase a weapon. 18-year-olds can't even drink alcohol.”

She said if we want to address mental health, Congress needs to fund mental health support. The Clark County School District has 2,000 students per counselor, she said.

“Those same politicians will not increase spending on mental health,” Becker said.

Randi Thompson is a gun owner and lobbyist representing the Nevada Firearms Coalition in the state legislature. She said she worked on legislation for safe storage.

You have the right to bear an arm, you have the responsibility to keep it safely locked away from children, to teach your children how to use them safely.

The group she represents is “all about education,” she said. But “bad guys don’t use universal background checks,” noting how many guns used in crimes were obtained illegally. While she said she would support a legally required gun safety course with purchase, Becker’s eyebrows raised.

“No NRA-backed legislator has introduced such a bill or else we would have supported it,” Becker said.

For many, the memory of the mass shooting in Las Vegas is fresh. Shae Turner was 17 years old, watching Jason Aldean with 22,000 others when the shooting started. Sixty people eventually died, and more than 800 others were injured.

Since the shooting, Turner has spoken on gun control.

“That thought that I have every time there's a new shooting … I have the same thought: ‘Everybody's life that that was there, whether they were injured physically or just emotionally, every aspect of their life is different.’”

When you’re in public after surviving a mass shooting, she said all you think about is your safety plan.

“In regard to AR-15s, which is the culprit for all of the shootings that we've referenced, and we hear about in recent years, there needs to be a uniform process in all the states,” Turner said. “You know, Liz said it best, at a federal level, what needs to happen, it needs to be the same in every state.”

Protecting gun rights will be a larger issue for Republican campaigns in Nevada, as well as inflation and abortion, said longtime politics and government editor Steve Sebelius. He bought a gun for sport, and likes guns, but said he would give up his guns “in a heartbeat” if everyone else did the same.

“These tragedies, which happen with breathtaking frequency, assert themselves at inopportune times,” he said. “Mark Amodei had just released an endorsement from the Nevada Firearms Coalition literally minutes before news broke about this tragedy in in Texas.“

He said he thinks there are plenty of legislators in Nevada who want to go further with gun reform but are constrained.

“Keep in mind one thing, this is a choice,” Sebelius said. The Second Amendment was not handed down by Moses on Mount Sinai, it was written by us, and it can be changed by us. Regulations that fall short of those rights can be changed by us, it's within our power to do this. The fact that it hasn't been done is a choice, not an inevitability.”

Becker said many of their members are gun owners, and that they’re not anti-gun, but they are concerned about safe gun storage. They have a program to address this called Be Smart for Kids.

Liz Becker, state chaper lead, Moms Demand Action;  Shae Turner, survivor, Route 91 Festival shooting in Las Vegas; Steve Sebelius, politics and government editor, Las Vegas Review-Journal;  Randi Thompson, lobbyist, Nevada Firearms Coalition

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.
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Dave Berns, now a producer for State of Nevada, recently returned to KNPR after having previously worked for the station from 2005 to 2009.
Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.