Nevada’s ‘red flag’ gun law sees little use two years after adoption
Nevada’s “red flag” law that allows police and family members to petition a court to temporarily take away an individual’s firearms has been used just over a dozen times over the last two years.
According to records kept by the state’s Department of Public Safety, only 13 high risk protection orders have been issued since the state’s red flag law went into effect in January 2020. Nine were filed in Clark County, two were filed in Elko County and one each was filed in Douglas County and Carson City.
Most of the 19 states that have adopted red flag laws use the system much more than Nevada. According to a 2020 analysis by the RAND Corporation, most states with red flag laws serve between 50 to 100 protection orders annually, with some — such as Florida and Maryland — issuing hundreds of orders annually (though those states have populations larger than Nevada).
Renewed attention on red flag laws has come amid passage of a federal bipartisan gun control bill in the wake of mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York. The federal legislation includes $750 million in grants meant to help encourage states to adopt extreme risk protection order laws.
Though they differ between jurisdictions, red flag laws are meant to give law enforcement, mental health professionals and family members a tool to temporarily take away an individual’s access to firearms in a shorter timeframe than normal — typically, firearm ownership rights under most state laws are only taken away if someone is convicted of a felony, committed to a mental institution or on the receiving end of a domestic violence protection order.
Gun control advocates initially pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as having disrupted the initial rollout of the new law at the start of 2020.
But another factor may be the reason for Nevada’s slow adoption of red flag laws — a lack of buy-in from sheriff’s offices and other state police agencies.
Most research on red flag laws suggests that wider usage of the extreme risk protection orders is driven more by police use, rather than by family members. A 2022 UC Davis study found that extreme risk protection orders are most often used by law enforcement, who filed nearly 97 percent of the orders during their first three years of implementation in California. That study found at least 58 cases where an order was served against a person who had made a mass shooting threat.
Shortly after Nevada’s law came into effect, several rural county sheriffs joined a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law, many of whom had signaled earlier that they would not enforce the new law, much less seek to use it.
In Clark County, five of the nine filed extreme risk protection orders were sought by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, according to a spokesperson for the agency. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, the Republican nominee for governor, says on his campaign website that he will look to “remove antiquated laws, including Nevada’s Red Flag law” if elected.
The Nevada Independent reviewed several of the extreme risk case files submitted by Metro over the last two years. They included:
- Gary James Miller, a Clark County man who was indicted on terrorism and other charges in early 2021 after he was “accused of threatening a Las Vegas urology center and his own mother before holding U.S. Postal Service workers at gunpoint,” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Miller posted a $150,000 bond in February 2021 — the request for a high-risk protection order preventing him from owning or purchasing firearms was filed later that month. Police wrote in the application that Miller was “planning and describing suicidal ideation to his family” and “asking members of his family to obtain additional firearms and ammunition.”
- A man who allegedly “armed himself with a machete and handgun” after a domestic violence dispute in San Diego. Police there requested and were granted an extreme risk order against him in California court, but were unable to serve him with the order until learning he had relocated with his father to Las Vegas. San Diego police requested Metro file an extreme risk order, as his family had allegedly said he is “mentally ill and on medication” and “desires to engage in an officer involved shooting with police.”
- A Las Vegas man who had police service calls to his apartment at least four times over a period of five months, typically including him telling police that there were numerous people in his apartment, that people were “hacking into his computers and email attempting to steal money,” and arriving police noting that he had armed himself with a handgun. In the final case, the man was “observed by numerous neighbors pointing the firearm into his residence, standing on his own roof with a handgun, and pointing the firearms through windows,” before police came and took him into custody without incident, transporting him to the hospital on a Legal 2000 mental health hold.
- A Las Vegas man who had been arrested by law enforcement several times since 2018, including instances where he was placed on a mental health hold, arrested for a DUI, and pulled a gun at a bartender at a PT’s tavern. The final incident in January 2022 involved a firearm seller who contacted police to report the man had inquired about the “milling” of a revolver to fit a different ammunition caliber cartridge case, and when refused, stated “he would take care of it himself and once he completed the task, he would cause harm to Sheriff Lombardo.” Police served a search warrant on his residence and recovered firearms and ammunition.
Nevada’s red flag law comes from a 2019 multi-pronged firearms bill (AB291) that also banned firearm modifications similar to bump stocks and added penalties for negligent storage of firearms. It was staunchly opposed by Republicans and signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Under the law, a court is allowed to issue an “extreme risk protection order” brought by a family member or law enforcement that takes away an individual’s owned firearms or the right to possess or buy a gun for any of the following reasons:
- Making threats or committing actual acts of violence against themselves or others
- Engaging in behavior a police officer determines to be a “serious and imminent threat”
- Engaging in high-risk behavior while possessing or recently purchasing a firearm
The law requires that a hearing be held within seven days of the issuance of the initial order, allowing judges to issue an extended order valid up to a year prohibiting an individual from possessing firearms if the court determines gun ownership could result in injury to the person or others and if other, less-restrictive options have been exhausted or not effective.