Last week, Nevada took a significant step in gun violence prevention with Governor Steve Sisolak (D) signing SB 143 into law to begin enforcing near-universal background checks on gun sales next January. The new law aims to prevent domestic violence offenders from obtaining guns, but this is far from the only bill or policy to stop abusers and protect survivors. Let’s examine some others bills the Nevada Legislature may consider to take on domestic violence.
Is a “red flag” bill coming?
During last week’s marathon of a SB 143 joint committee hearing, State Senator Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) voiced potential support for a “red flag” law, even as he was signaling what would ultimately be united Republican opposition to Nevada’s new background checks law. So was this just empty rhetoric, or might we actually see some action on this?
Probably, as Senator Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) has introduced SB 120 this year, following attempts by the late Senator Debbie Smith (D-Sparks) in 2015 and Ratti in 2017 to pass a “red flag” law here in Nevada. Currently, nine states have laws in place that allow for family members (and in Maryland, select health care professionals as well) to petition state courts for an extreme risk protection order to prevent individuals who pose a severe violent threat to themselves and/or others from possessing firearms. In addition, three other states allow for just select law enforcement officers to petition courts for such an order.
In the last two years these “red flag” bills have received some bipartisan support, especially following last year’s Parkland Shooting in Florida. However, the NRA and other pro-gun groups fought against “red flag” laws when they were being considered in California, Oregon, and (during its first introduction in) Vermont. Should one of the BDR’s become a “red flag” bill here in Nevada, that will test whether Hammond’s comments translate into real bipartisan action, or if that was just another talking point that falls by the wayside once an actual bill drops and gets labeled by opponents as “radical, leftist, socialist gun control”.
So which bills are live now?
AB 19 was pre-filed by the Attorney General’s Office last November, and it seeks to extend temporary protection orders from 30 to 45 days along with extending longer-term protection orders from one year to five years and enhancing penalties for violating such orders. Along those same lines, the just-released SB 218 from Senators Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and Pat Spearman makes violation of a temporary protective order a gross misdemeanor and violation of an extended protective order a category C felony, along with enhancing penalties for repeat domestic violence offenses.
AB 60 is another bill pre-filed by the Attorney General’s Office last November that aims to expand the definition of domestic violence to include coercion, burglary, home invasion, and pandering. In addition the bill specifies the stalking violations that are already included in existing law, and it enhances the penalties for domestic violence battery.
Why do these bills matter, and what else should be done?
Last month we explored the very ugly, dirty truth about the “Dirty John” story, a story that partially unfolded a few miles down the freeway from me in Henderson. We learned just how dangerous coercive control truly is, and we’re now starting to see real legislation that addresses the severity of this problem.
Of course, it’s not just this one case that launched an internationally chart-topping podcast and TV series. There are many more frighteningly true stories out here: Christy Mack’s, Charla Mack’s, my own, and thousands of others. According to 2016 Violence Policy Center data, Nevada has the third-highest rate of women being murdered by men. Clearly most of these cases don’t make national headlines, but we might occasionally spot them in local news reports. And more importantly these cases are unfolding all around us, behind closed doors and beneath gilded facades.
Numerous challenges remain, including the shocking reality that the federal Violence Against Women Act remains expired due to ongoing Congressional disputes over who deserves protection. It remains to be seen whether federal law can be improved upon, or even restored to where it was before last December’s government shutdown, but at least these bills pending in the Nevada Legislature provide some kind of hope that perhaps something will be done about it.