Throughout this year, I’ve sought to use this platform to shine a bright light on the dark corners of our communities where domestic and sexual violence continue to hurt people. In recent weeks, folks across the ideological spectrum (but mostly left of center) have scratched their heads, then shouted from the rooftops, over the fallout from a Nevada Supreme Court ruling on a 2015 state statute pertaining to domestic violence offenders surrendering their firearms.
While there are plenty of reasons to worry about the resulting fallout, it’s important to remember the origin of this problem… And the place where this problem must be fixed.
WARNING: This story addresses some very sensitive topics, including domestic violence, and it includes some coarse adult language. Reader discretion is advised.
Remember this guy? Unfortunately, he still matters.
These days, former State Senator Michael Roberson (R-Henderson) is a distant memory in Carson City. But before Lt. Governor Kate Marshall (D) defeated him last November to win the right to preside over the State Senate, Roberson was the one who seemed to rule supreme over that side of the building, even when he wasn’t officially in the majority.
As we’ve previously discussed, beneath his veneer of cunning authority were a shit-ton of cheap gimmicks. From “Marsy’s Law” (and the ensuing scandal of its “tough-on-crime” funder securing a bailout from the Clark County District Attorney’s Office) to “Stop Sanctuary Cities” (and the ensuing scandal over Metro Police’s refusal to come clean with constituents over its relationship with ICE), Roberson constantly pursued publicity stunts designed to maximize his media coverage and never seemed to sweat the details.
At first, Roberson excelled at milking such publicity stunts. Yet whenever he had to “put up or shut up”, his publicity stunts shut down and fell apart more often than not. The most notorious example of such may be his failed attempt to recall three of the State Senate’s Democratic women in 2017, but I want to take you all the way back to 2015, as in that one session when Roberson was actually the Majority Leader, to explain why three city governments are now stuck with the consequences of another of Roberson’s publicity stunts gone wrong.
Remember that “domestic violence bill” from four years ago? Here’s why we’re talking about it now.
After Republicans swept nearly everything in the 2014 “Great Red Tide” election, Michael Roberson sought to prove once and for all that Democrats were wrong to blame the GOP for an onslaught of attacks on women’s rights that Democratic strategists shrewdly labeled the “War on Women”. One weapon in his arsenal was SB 175, a bill that Roberson labeled as “taking on domestic violence”, yet also a bill that gun safety advocates feared was a trojan horse being used to hide pro-gun lobby policies like expansion of “Stand Your Ground” and the preemption ban on municipalities enacting their own gun safety laws behind the cloak of “taking on domestic violence”.
SB 175 had a slew of policy changes packed into that one bill, but some (such as “Stand Your Ground” expansion) were watered down or amended out entirely. One policy that made it through final passage was the original gun possession ban for those convicted of felony and misdemeanor domestic violence offenses, a ban that was later enhanced with the passage of Senator Pat Spearman’s (D-North Las Vegas) SB 124 in 2017. Back in 2015, this was the key to Roberson garnering bipartisan support for the final amended bill, as this finally began to align the State of Nevada with federal law restricting domestic violence offenders’ access to guns.
Yet in September 2019, this provision in 2015’s SB 175 came around to haunt victim advocates, prosecutors, and municipal authorities when the Nevada Supreme Court determined this provision mandates that jury trials be offered to all defendants accused of misdemeanor domestic violence charges, charges that up until now were subjected to municipal court bench trials. Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford (D) and prosecutors across the state have condemned the Court’s unanimous ruling, and the Cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, and Henderson have already moved to sidestep this Nevada Supreme Court ruling by adopting new “domestic violence extra lite” ordinances that allow misdemeanor offenders to keep their guns in order to keep their cases in municipal court bench trials.
Remember why the cities are scrambling to produce a “work-around”.
Last week, gun violence prevention activists and domestic violence victim advocates registered their frustration as the Las Vegas City Council voted on their new ordinance, an ordinance that itself will likely be challenged in court. And honestly, I understand why these advocates are expressing their frustration at Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, and Henderson City Halls. However, we shouldn’t ignore the bigger picture here.
State law (along with federal law) mandates the restriction to firearms access for felony and misdemeanor domestic violence offenders. The state’s highest court recently ruled that state law now mandates that defendants accused of such misdemeanor offenses be given trials by jury, since loss of rights is at stake with these charges. This looks to me like a state problem, so why is the onus on municipal authorities to come up with a “band-aid”/”work-around” (excuse for a) solution?
Last week, some of the victims’ advocates urged the City of Las Vegas to delay a final vote (which, of course, they didn’t) and instead urge Governor Steve Sisolak (D) to call a special session of the Nevada Legislature so the state can ensure compliance with the Nevada Supreme Court’s ruling on defendants’ right to trial by jury while also ensuring compliance with federal law that prohibits convicted domestic violence offenders from possessing guns. Yet as of now, it’s looking incredibly unlikely a special legislative session will occur this year or next.
Remember this: This is a state problem that the state can very well decide to solve.
According to 2017 crime statistics, Nevada ranks fourth worst in the nation in the rate of women murdered by men. Overall, Nevada ranks second worst in domestic violence and the shortage of support services tends to further worsen the situation for victims and survivors. Considering how bleak these statistics look, a special session to develop a comprehensive solution for this crisis doesn’t sound unreasonable.
Unfortunately, those of us who know how state government works know that no matter how reasonable this request reads, it’s just not feasible. After all, special sessions are only to be called when billionaires demand public subsidies for a NFL stadium, or when one particular “libertarian” billionaire demands public subsidies for his Gigafactory, or when one shady multi-billion-dollar “startup” demands public subsidies for a concept that never ultimately gets off the ground. Does anyone else see a pattern here? (Oh, and by the way, Michael Roberson, then Governor Brian Sandoval [R], and an overwhelming number of Democratic legislators were all too happy to give all of them all of the subsidies they ever wanted.)
Unfortunately while our state’s elected leaders were offering tax subsidies to nearly any multinational corporation willing to promise “new jobs and economic development”, they’ve all too often neglected communities in need of actual resources and assistance. We’ve discussed this in regard to Nevada public schools’ never-ending budget woes, and we have to talk about this again now that Nevadans suffering domestic violence may end up suffering further because the state somehow can’t figure out how to fund more jury trials…
Except they can. It’s ultimately not a question of whether they can. It’s a question of whether they’re willing to actually do something about it. I get that our state’s ruling class don’t view victims of domestic violence as “sexy” as an electric car factory, a NFL stadium, or whatever the fuck Elon Musk wants us to subsidize next, but it really says something about our state’s ruling class that some billionaire’s pet project always gets priority treatment while the most vulnerable among us are told to “wait their turn” or settle for a “work-around”. This is one of those moments when we’re left to wonder why the system works the way it does.
And finally, in case you or a loved one needs them, some resources
If you or someone you know is facing a major life crisis and struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always there at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). So is the Crisis Text Line, where you can start a conversation with a volunteer counselor by texting “START” to 741741. (I can attest from personal experience that it helps.) And for LGBTQ+ youth in need of immediate help, the Trevor Project has a 24/7 hotline at 1-866-488-7386 and a text option (text “START” to 678678) available.
If you know anyone who’s currently experiencing domestic and/or sexual violence, the Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence has a list of resources available across the state. And if you want to do more to help, check out the Nevada Coalition’s action page for ideas on getting more involved.