MINDEN - Signs explaining that guns are officially outlawed in Douglas County's public buildings may go up after Thursday.
Sheriff Ron Pierini has asked the county commission to approve a policy specifically prohibiting guns in county buildings, except those carried by law enforcement officers. The change is needed to bring the county into compliance with a new law requiring signs to be posted at the entrances of public buildings where firearms are not welcome.
Sheriff's Lt. Ross Chichester said guns weren't allowed even before the change, because public buildings were on a list of places where guns were not permitted even if their bearers held a concealed weapon permit. But Assembly Bill 166, passed during the 1999 Legislative session, changed the law to say that permit holders can bring their guns into public buildings unless there are signs or metal detectors saying otherwise.
Only two of Douglas County's buildings - the main judicial and law enforcement center in Minden and the Tahoe administration building in Stateline - have metal detectors and an obvious prohibition on guns.
Chichester said the new policy, to take effect Thursday, shouldn't mean a major change for county residents.
"There's no reason to bring a gun into a public building," said Chichester. "What we anticipate is solving a problem before it ever occurs. It hasn't ever been an issue, but what we want to do is, for the safety of everyone in those buildings, say (guns) are not allowed."
Chichester said he's not sure if the signs will be posted in town and fire district buildings. The towns and fire districts are subdivisions of the county, but they aren't on the list of buildings that will get the signs.
Assembly Bill 166 was introduced by Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville. The original proposal would have removed public buildings from the list of places where concealed weapons are not allowed.
Hettrick said the change could make public buildings safer by discouraging criminals who might otherwise attack a public building if they thought the occupants were all unarmed. He also argued the amendment would fix a loophole that unintentionally criminalizes the transportation of firearms into public events centers and other arenas for antique shows, conventions and other legitimate reasons.
Several hearings and adjustments resulted in a final version that allows guns in public buildings as long as they are not specifically prohibited. A violation would be a misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Hettrick said Tuesday he is against posting the signs.
"I think it's a huge mistake," he said. "The law doesn't require any public buildings to have signs. It's not against the law for someone with a legal permit to carry firearms except in a building that has metal detectors."
Hettrick said the signs would act as a "roadmap to where unprotected people might be."
"The only people who will obey the signs are legal permitees," he said. "Criminals could care less."
Instead of adopting a formal public policy, Hettrick suggested the commissioners write to facility supervisors that permission would be denied if they don't want firearms in the building.
"The very benefit of the concealed weapons law is that no one knows whether another person is armed to protect themselves," Hettrick said.
"I just think it's a shame. It's like putting a sign up that says, 'Shoot without fear here.'"