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Lombardo’s commitment to public safety hollow

Theresa Bohannan
Theresa Bohannan
People pay respects to the victims of the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting at the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden in Downtown Las Vegas on Friday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent).

As the saying goes: Elections have consequences. When Joe Lombardo was elected governor last year, I had little hope that he would work with Democrats on passing their priorities. When I saw his priorities were school choice and reinstating the ineffective school-to-prison pipeline policies, I assumed it would be four years of stagnation.

Given my cynicism and the newly elected governor’s lack of experience as a politician or legislator, it appears that my predictions about his governing style will ring true given his recent vetoes and threats of holding the budget hostage. However, that said, I respect the democratic process and the diversity of opinions surrounding the issue of addressing gun violence.

Gun violence remains a significant issue in our state, with devastating consequences for families and communities. Every week I read a story about a shooting in Reno and I imagine it is tenfold in Las Vegas. It is tiring, upsetting and, honestly, depressing.

As responsible citizens, we must address this issue collectively by supporting reasonable measures that promote safer access to firearms, comprehensive background checks and responsible storage practices. It is not about infringing upon the rights of law-abiding gun owners, but rather about implementing policies that can potentially save lives and prevent senseless tragedies. While we can disagree about how to achieve the objective of lowering the rates of gun violence, can we not agree that something needs to give?

Gov. Lombardo’s decision to veto SB171, AB354 and AB355 not only undermines any potential progress in creating a safer Nevada, but it also raises concerns about the motivations behind these actions.

While some argue that these bills would have limited impact on addressing mass shootings or are unconstitutional, the arguments against them closely align with talking points from the National Rifle Association. It is crucial for our elected officials to listen to the concerns and demands of all of their constituents, prioritize public safety and work toward finding common ground that addresses the rights of gun owners and the urgent need to reduce gun violence.

According to Mr. Lombardo’s own campaign website: “Part of protecting our right to own and bear arms is the responsibility we have to keep those weapons out of the hands of criminals who wish to do us harm. Joe has spent his career doing just that and will continue to do so as governor.”

Can now-Gov. Lombardo explain how he plans to “keep those weapons out of the hands of criminals that wish to do us harm?” I read his platform and I don’t see any concrete solutions to keep Nevadans safe from gun violence. Gov. Lombardo’s hollow promises to protect public safety should have many questioning the sincerity of his campaign rhetoric.

While his commitment to appease those who advocate for zero restrictions on firearms may be seen as a promise fulfilled, it is essential for the governor to recognize that this ideology represents only a small but very vocal minority within our state.

Of course, we will hear the chorus of this-is-a-mental-health issue to sidestep the issue of easy access to firearms. While it is important to acknowledge the role of mental health in discussions about gun violence, solely focusing on mental health without addressing access to guns overlooks a crucial aspect of the issue.

One challenge with emphasizing mental health is that we cannot compel individuals to seek or receive care. How would we identify someone who decides to commit a crime that stems from an untreated mental illness? I’ve never heard anything beyond “it is a mental health issue.” This does not get us anywhere and is a cynical distraction from the bigger picture.

We should look to adopt comprehensive measures that address both mental health concerns and sensible gun control policies to ensure the safety of our communities but we cannot overlook a significant contributing factor to gun violence: easy access to firearms.

If people firmly believe that this is strictly a mental health issue, then I ask them to consider implementing a rigorous psychological evaluation as a requirement for firearm purchases as a potential solution. Incorporating comprehensive background checks and assessments of individuals’ mental well-being, we might enhance public safety and reduce the risk of firearms falling into the wrong hands.

However, such a proposal is likely to face fierce resistance from gun rights advocates. It is also important to note that having a mental illness does not automatically equate to a propensity for gun violence, as many individuals with mental health conditions pose no threat to others. Additionally, anyone who has tried to seek mental health services will tell you how incredibly difficult it is to get help given the lack of providers — especially in Nevada — and the lack of coverage to pay for such services.

While I am all for increasing access to mental health services, it is in no way the end-all to addressing the rising rates of gun violence in our country. We need a multifactorial approach that incorporates a range of solutions to reduce access to firearms to those who pose the greatest risk. This is not and will not be an easy thing to accomplish with such diverse views and strong opposition to doing anything.

As a mother and a native Nevadan, I am tired of having to worry every day when I drop my son off at school or going to a parade or the movies or basically anywhere where gun violence could occur, which is just about everywhere. Our country is starting to feel like a war zone, and this is totally unacceptable.

While I recognize that there are individuals in our country who applaud politicians for their inaction and insistence that nothing can be done, the majority of Americans, including Nevadans, are exhausted and disheartened by the recurring tragedies that unfold. We are tired of hearing stories about innocent children becoming orphans simply because they went to the mall with their families. We mourn for parents who have lost their precious children to senseless gun violence triggered by minor disputes or when a young person mistakenly enters the wrong driveway.

It is no longer acceptable for our leaders to remain idle or claim helplessness in the face of such preventable tragedies. We demand action, not empty rhetoric and inaction. A veto is not a replacement for lack of ideas or willingness to address public safety concerns.

I strongly encourage Gov. Lombardo to reconsider his position and engage in a meaningful dialogue with the community, experts and advocacy groups to develop comprehensive and gun control policies that protect the well-being of all Nevadans. It is through such coalitions that we can build a safer future for our state and contribute to a nationwide effort to curb gun violence.

The majority of Nevadans understand the need for sensible gun control measures that prioritize public safety over political posturing. They recognize that unrestricted access to firearms poses significant risks, and that responsible gun ownership requires reasonable regulations — remember well-regulated is the first part of the Second Amendment 

Gov. Lombardo’s failure to address these concerns reflects a disconnect from broader public sentiment. It is important to remind the governor that this isn’t Texas and that if he thinks he can govern in a way that silences our demand for change, he should not get too comfortable in Carson City.

Theresa Bohannan is a native Nevadan, wife and mother. She is passionate about advocating for the underdog. She earned her Master's of Public Health degree from UNR and previously worked as an epidemiologist at the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health. In 2019, she was was appointed by former Gov. Steve Sisolak to the state's Patient Protection Commission.

  • Updated at 4:30 p.m. June 6, 2023, to reflect Bohannan's appointment by former Gov. Steve Sisolak.

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