Saturday, January 19, 2013

In the Shadow of the NRA

While the nation has been debating gun safety reform in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school massacre, the NRA has staged a "seminar for elected officials" here in Nevada. Despite the growing demand for reform, NRA officials and a group of state legislators (plus a handful of local electeds) met behind closed doors in the "Battlefield Vegas" assault weapons playground shooting range in the shadow of Circus Circus and the northern reach of the Las Vegas Strip. No really, this happened... And ProgressNow Nevada was on hand to speak up for the voices the NRA is trying to silence.

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Surprisingly, not too many legislators showed up. Among the ones who still did were Senator David Parks (D-Paradise) and Assembly Members Ellen Spiegel (D-Henderson), Michelle Fiore (R-Las Vegas), Heidi Swank (D-Paradise), and Andy Eisen (D-Paradise). In addition, Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins (D) and Las Vegas City Council Member Steve Ross attended. Yet while they arrived to meet with the NRA, Nevada Legislature leaders of both parties were notably absent. What's also fascinating is that none of the other legislators who accepted NRA campaign contributions (save Parks & Fiore) were spotted at Battlefield Vegas.

So all the elected officials who did attend today were greeted by ProgressNow, PLAN, Culinary Union, and other progressive protesters. Yet while most just drove in, two came out... For a few minutes. Ellen Spiegel briefly came out to talk to protesters, and she brought Heidi Swank with her. Spiegel plead her case of "wanting to listen to all sides and talk to everyone". ProgressNow's Brian Fadie responded by noting the closed door nature of this event, that the NRA doesn't seem to want to allow all sides a chance to have their say. And no mention was made by Spiegel or Swank of considering Senator Tick Segerblom's (D-Las Vegas) proposed gun safety legislation.

After providing a "peace offering" of donuts, defending their intent to "listen to all sides", and exchanging business cards, Spiegel and Swank returned inside the Battlefield Vegas compound. Again, no other elected official (who attended) came outside.

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What happened today is very much a reflection of Nevada political history. Typically, the gun lobby has enjoyed immense "juice" in Carson City while gun safety advocates have been pushed into the shadows. Even despite the evidence showing the dangers of allowing so many high capacity military grade weapons in civilian communities, it's been incredibly difficult to convince Nevada lawmakers take this problem seriously.

Yet something also felt different about today. This happened just before President Obama's Second Inauguration & Martin Luther King Day, and shortly after the Newtown massacre & renewed calls for gun safety reform. The timing couldn't possibly be worse. And perhaps that's why so many legislators and local elected officials decided not to attend this NRA event.

So perhaps there's still the potential for change here in Nevada, but it certainly won't be easy.

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