By Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer
Ordinances regulating activities of gunfighters and other costumed characters in Virginia City are going to get a second look by the sheriff's office as it tries to balance conflicting rules.
Storey County Sheriff's Lt. Chris Parsons said because the rules aren't uniform for all types of characters in period costume and their activities, and because there are also state laws governing the use of firearms, the department is getting together with all involved parties to find a workable solution.
"Obviously we have to observe both state law and county ordinance," he said. "I can't bend the rules because I don't like what one or the other says."
He said the department was not backing down in its enforcement of the gunfighter ordinance, but was looking at the issues to see if public safety concerns can be met without hurting the good the groups do in bringing visitors to town.
"These things are under review," he said. "We want everyone here. All of those groups bring tourists in."
A variety of gunfighter groups entertain in the historic mining town, along with Civil War re-enactors and the Virginia City Living Legends, or docents, who dress in period costumes, with guns, but don't fire the weapons or put on shows. The docents are part of the Virginia City Convention and Tourism Authority, and mainly tell visitors about the town's history and pose for photographs.
Parsons said gunfighters and re-enactors have to obtain a gunfighters license or obtain a CCW or conceal-carry weapons permit, which includes a background check.
Docents have to be admitted by the VCCTA, which is considering a proposal by the sheriff's office for identification and other rules.
The licenses prohibit drinking alcohol while armed, or carrying live ammunition or loaded guns.
State law allows for a resident who is not a felon to carry a gun as long as it is not concealed, and to have a drink, so long as the blood alcohol level doesn't rise above .10, according to Sheriff Jim Miller.
"The guys who don't belong to any group can have a beer, but we are going to enforce the law with regard to NRS, regarding discharging firearms, or brandishing firearms," Miler said. "I still believe that alcohol and guns do not mix, but NRS does allow them to drink and carry guns, as long as they don't go over .10 (blood alcohol level)."
Miller added the gunfighters could save money by getting their own background check for their permit.
Parsons said representatives of the sheriff's department would meet with representatives of each of the groups as well as the district attorney to try and streamline the law to make it more fair and workable.
Among the gunfighter groups that routinely perform during the tourist season are the Virginia City Outlaws, The Guns 'N' Gals of Virginia City and the Bandoleros, who are the ones that rob the train.
Parsons said several people who applied for gunfighter permits last year had to be denied because of their history. Permits are not given to anyone with a felony or domestic violence conviction.
Another problem, he said, was that county law and state law seem to conflict.
"The county has two ordinances," he said. "The dangerous weapons within city limits from 1987, which says you can't carry a dangerous weapon within Virginia City or Gold Hill. Then you have the ordinance that covers the permitting of the gunfighters. Those are the two county ordinances we have to work with. Then you have state laws which cover CCW, discharge of firearms in congested areas, brandishing a firearm and possession of a firearm when intoxicated."
Miller said the 1987 law should be repealed, but that has to be done by the county commissioners.
"That violates the Second Amendment," he said. "We're taking action to get it removed. It has to be board-repealed. People need to relax and take a breath."
Parsons said the county sheriff is responsible for ensuring that state and local laws are followed, and for protecting the public and the tourist trade.
He said the department doesn't plan to check out everyone on the street in cowboy garb, unless there's an obvious problem such as brandishing firearms, shooting or being drunk.
"This is a tourist town; we want these people here," he said. "That's one of the unique and wonderful things about this town. But then again, other people call us and ask why aren't we enforcing county or state law."
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-7351.