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Proposed legislative discussion on assault weapons derailed by committee vote


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau

CARSON CITY – If there was any question about whether the gun debate is a controversial topic in Nevada as well as nationally, a clear answer was provided today at a meeting of the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice.

A proposed discussion on assault weapons was removed from the agenda by a vote of the panel before it could even begin.

Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the 17-member panel, which includes judicial representatives, police and others in the law enforcement and legal communities as well as lawmakers, had placed an item on the agenda titled “Presentation on Assault Weapons Laws.”

Horne said he did so after a number of violent incidents occurred around the country involving the use of assault weapons. The item was informational only and was not intended to be an avenue to propose a ban on assault weapons, he said.

The presentation was to be made by Robert Roshak, executive director of the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association; Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence; and Steve Helsley, a consultant with the National Rifle Association.

“The commission does not enact, nor does it have statutory authority, to request bill drafts,” Horne said in preliminary comments. “Rather the purpose of the commission is to look at pertinent issues of the criminal justice system. In light of several recent high profile assaults on the public, including one less than a mile from this very building, the commission thought it was important to at least have an informational discussion on the issue of assault weapons.”

But the agenda item was pulled before the discussion could begin, with Clark County District Judge David Barker, a member of the commission, questioning whether the panel had the authority to hold such a discussion.

“It is not a criminal offense to possess an assault weapon,” he said. “And I think it is outside the four corners of this commission’s responsibility to have this on our agenda. So frankly, I would move to strike it from the agenda.”

The motion was seconded by Clark County Public Defender Phil Kohn, who said a discussion on assault weapons, a Constitutional issue involving the 2nd Amendment, was too complex for a brief overview by the panel. The Legislature is the place for such a discussion, he said.

Horne said Legislative Counsel advised him that the discussion was within the purview of the panel, but Barker made a motion to remove the item from the agenda. The vote was 8 to 5 to remove the item.

Some of the dozens of members of the public attending in Elko, Carson City and Las Vegas clapped after the vote and then left the meeting.

The discussion got off to a tense start when Horne called Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, “extremely unprofessional” for suggesting in a newspaper opinion piece that Horne intended to seek a ban on assault weapons.

Ellison said later in public testimony that he meant no disrespect to Horne or his position as chairman.

Horne said he was also upset with the misinformation presented on the agenda item, and that the members of the commission would not be bullied.

Horne is chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which in 2011 took no vote on the controversial “campus carry bill” that would have allowed those with concealed weapons permits to carry guns on the campuses of the Nevada System of Higher Education. The bill had passed the Senate.

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