LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Clark County processed only 17 applications of Nevada’s Red Flag Law, which allows people to petition the court to take guns away from their loved ones if they pose a danger to themselves or others, since the Legislature enacted the law in 2019, the 8 News Now Investigators discovered.
Democratic Assem. Sandra Jauregui, who was present during the 1 October shooting massacre, sponsored Assembly Bill 291, a wide-ranging public safety bill that contained an amendment widely known as a “Red Flag” law. Democratic Assem. Julia Ratti sponsored the amendment.
“You have all heard my very personal story and why this issue is so important to me,” Jauregui testified to the State Judiciary committee in 2019. “I’m here because I believe this policy can save lives.”
But statistics show that this policy may indeed not be saving lives.
In 2019, when the bill was voted into law, there were 69 gunshot homicides in Clark County, which has a population of approximately 2.2 million. By 2021, that number skyrocketed to 118. Similarly, gunshot suicide numbers in Clark County have risen. In 2019, that number was 223. And by last year, it had ballooned to 280.
Republican State Sen. Scott Hammond, who voted against the bill in 2019, said the law is not working because it is underused and unconstitutional.
“It has been several years now, and with little usage. I think it’s because people don’t trust it, Hammond told 8 News Now. “You don’t want to mess around with people’s due process rights. I mean, it’s so American, right? It’s ingrained in us.”
But Democratic State Sen. Dallas Harris disagrees, saying the number of applications is a sign of the bill’s success.
“I think a lot of people who were opposed to this bill were worried it was going to be overused,” Harris told the 8 News Now Investigators. Harris was one of 12 Democratic state senators who voted for the bill.
“I would say it [the bill] is doing exactly what it was intended to do, and that is to be a mechanism for use,” she said. “It’s not to require any Nevadan to report a loved one if they do not, but if they feel that there’s some danger there, they have it as a tool. And that tool is available and it should remain available.”
The 8 News Now Investigators’ research found that actually applying to take someone’s guns using the Red Flag law is a cumbersome process. Jared Dowhower, the doctor of nursing practice at the Human Behavioral Institute in the West Valley, tried to apply so he could have a psychiatric patient’s guns taken away, and was denied.
“It should have gone through,” Dowhower said. “It seemed like a clear reason for temporarily taking a gun away from a person.”
Dowhower said there were no instructions with the online application form. He said he printed it and sent a student of his down to the Regional Justice Center to file it in person, but that the student waited there, in line, for an hour and a half before giving up.
Ultimately, these medical professionals, facing a life-or-death emergency, ended up sending the application to the court using the U.S. Postal Service.
“They have not made it easy to use at all,” Dowhower said.
Harris has a possible explanation.
“Part of the issue here is that it’s impossible to prove the negative,” Harris said. “We will absolutely never know how many lives have been saved from a temporary restriction on gun owners.” In particular, Harris said the Red Flag law, or the existence of it, may have in fact thwarted a mass shooting or other homicide or suicide.
The 8 News Now Investigators uncovered the case of Trent Leach, who was shot and killed by Las Vegas Metropolitan police in September 2021, just weeks after the police had successfully used the Red Flag law to have Leach’s guns taken away.
Leach ended up on the losing end of a gunfight with police, but it was not until months later, when the LVMPD produced their final write-up of the incident, that the 8 News Now Investigators learned that Leach was prohibited from having weapons in his possession.
Buried in the 63-page report was the admission that Leach temporarily lost his right to bear arms in July 2021 and that the order had been extended a few weeks later, just over a month before he was killed.
The firearm Leach had on his person during the shootout, however, had been legally purchased in April 2021, months before his gun rights had been curtailed.