I-Team: Nevada has High Gun Ownership Rate - 8 News NOW

Guns of Nevada

I-Team: Nevada has High Gun Ownership Rate

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Gun enthusiasts practice their skills. Gun enthusiasts practice their skills.
The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults. The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson. Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson.

Ed. Note: The national debate about gun violence and gun control has generated strong emotions on all sides following the recent tragedies in Connecticut and Colorado. Should Americans' Second Amendment rights be restricted in the interests of public safety, or is gun violence something that no law could curb? This is Part 2 of Guns of Nevada.

LAS VEGAS -- America has more guns and more gun deaths than any country on Earth, and southern Nevada has seen an explosion of gun violence in the past few weeks.

Is there a definitive link between the number of guns in the community and the rate of gun deaths? It's a key point in the national debate about guns but there is no consensus.

This question about the presumed link between gun prevalence and gun crime goes to the heart of the gun debate. And what 8 News NOW has found is, basically, you can find a statistic to support your position, no matter what your position is.

Some facts are beyond dispute though. Nevada has one of the highest per capita gun ownership figures and it also ranks 57 percent above the national average in gun deaths. In the past few days, a few more gun deaths were added to the total.

Nevada Murders, Robberies and Assaults by Weapon

Guns give, and guns take away. In the two weeks leading up to this broadcast, southern Nevada experienced an astonishing level of gun violence. The night of Jan. 14, a teenage party ended when 20 shots were fired. Two teens were hit. A 14-year-old died. The next day, a sniper opened fire on a soccer game hitting two women. On that same day, a state assemblyman was arrested for allegedly threatening the life of another lawmaker. In his car was a gun and ammunition. Two days later in Boulder City, a Metro Police officer shot and killed his wife and child, and then killed himself. A week later near Jones Boulevard and Smoke Ranch Road, a man used a gun to murder three members of his family, and then put a bullet into his own head. And in the past 24 hours, two people were murdered in an apartment on Paradise Road.

Also, in the same time frame, guns were used to save lives. Two armed robbers tried to stick up a jewelry store but were thwarted when an employee shot back, wounding one of the suspects. And when a bank robber on the run tried to break into a home on Saturday, a resident chased him away by firing two shots.

"The guy was coming into my house with two guns. If I didn't have a gun, there was no way I was going to stop him," said Mark Schwendner.

And on Monday morning, an elderly homeowner shot at three intruders, killing one and scattering the other two.

Nevada attitudes about guns are somewhat schizophrenic. A survey conducted for 8 News NOW shows 57 percent think gun ownership makes society safer while 60 percent think laws governing gun sales should be stricter. We want guns -- but want them -- in the right hands. Does society have a right to enact rules that seemingly infringe on the Second Amendment? In one way, we've already made up our minds.

"Once a weapon is introduced into the situation, everything is elevated. A heightened fear, a heightened sense of danger. My office takes those cases very seriously. And people go to prison every day for guns," Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said.

He sees no constitutional conflict with Nevada laws. The harsher penalties are recognition by the public that guns are simply more lethal than other weapons. Their lethality is the reason most people buy them in the first place. Wolfson has two teams of prosecutors who focus almost entirely on gun crimes cases.

"When you use a gun, you not only endanger the person you are assaulting but you endanger other citizens and you endanger yourself," Wolfson said.

Figures compiled by the I-Team show Nevada consistently ranks in the top 10 in the nation for gun deaths, including homicides, suicides, and accidents. Nevada is one of the few places where gun deaths outnumber those killed by cars.

While there has been no Sandy Hook type of shooting in Nevada, there have been 356 children killed by guns in the past decade. Nevada is the 12th highest in the country.

In December, when a jilted boyfriend whipped out a .38 caliber and blasted away at concierge clerk Jessica Kenny in the lobby of a hotel before killing himself, it took all of five seconds.

"I protected my daughter her whole life but nothing could have prevented this except him not getting a gun," said Debbie Kenny, victim's mother.

"The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," said Randy Mackie, Nevada Firearms Coalition.

A Former cop and gun rights advocate, Mackie says guns are a great equalizer for women, seniors, any potential crime victim.

The FBI reports Nevada had 42 cases of justifiable homicide from 2002 to 2011. Those were people who used guns to defend themselves. During the same time, there were more than 1,900 murders, about half involving guns.

Mackie says the numbers are deceptive, that an academic study proves guns are used far more often for self defense, but without being fired, so they don't show up in reports.

"His conclusion was that firearms are used three to four more times a year for defensive purposes than for criminal purposes," Mackie said.

He adds, the study stands up to scrutiny, though advocates for gun control have long argued the opposite, that a gun in the home is six times more likely to harm you or a family member.

Wolfson says his office recognizes the right of self-defense and generally doesn't prosecute.

Other than for self-defense, gun owners say they need firearms to protect against government tyranny. Tonight at 11 p.m., I-Team reporter George Knapp will look at the conflicting views on this issue.

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