Are evil forces trying to drive target shooters deep into the Nevada desert, their two-wheel drive sedans and PreRunners to be stranded, putting money into the pockets of off-road towing companies? No. The Wildlife Commission proposal to ban hunting discharge of firearms within 5,000 feet of residences come from a multitude of complaints about bad hunting behavior and is driven primarily by game wardens’ complaints that they are effectively powerless to do anything about it.
The Wildlife Commission is meeting Friday, March 16th in Laughlin to discuss the ban. You can contact the Commissioners here. Special thanks to Assemblyman Ira Hansen for his support on this issue and help obtaining more information. The following information are from NDOW emails (which I am not making public).
The problem is that careless hunters suffering from buck fever are chasing and killing game in residential areas that are clearly inappropriate for hunting. Like reckless target shooters, many of these hunters have no appreciation for the power of their weapons or concern for their neighbors. Just imagine how upset you would be if some jerk was dropping birdshot in your backyard, or turned your wife off hunting forever by finishing Bambi off in your front yard.
Inconsiderate morons with guns (and bows) are not just the province of target shooters. Even so, much of this is a surprise to Nevadans who don’t hunt or live deep in the suburbs. Wardens are frustrated with legions of complaints that they cannot appropriately deal with. One warden deals with 30-40 hunter complaint calls a year. Here are some of the issues wardens are facing:
However, by wardens’ own admissions, local ordinances simply aren’t enforced and local police/deputies aren’t enforcing the ordinances themselves and often expect wardens to handle the problem with a hunting regulation that doesn’t exist. NDOW wardens complain that “One is that we typically don’t, or maybe can’t enforce county or city ordinances.”
The Deputies who respond to these calls also handle them entirely different and give out different and sometimes wrong information about their own ordinances as well as the State laws. Their level of enforcement is also highly variable. Most responding Deputies just tell the hunters to leave so they don’t have to keep getting calls whether they are legitimate in making them stop or not. They just don’t want the hassle and actually aren’t clear on what is legal and what isn’t. Even the hunters who do the research and find the laws and abide by them will get asked to leave even when they are carrying all of their support documentation to show responding Deputies...we get numerous calls a year [including] even County Deputies wanting us to respond and handle these issues when we really don’t have much enforcement authority over it when it is only the Ordinance that is being broken.
Simply put, law enforcement, especially local deputies, is failing to do its job. From what I understand, game wardens have authority to enforce “all laws of the State of Nevada” while on duty. Not being an expert, does this mean they have authority to enforce just state statutes (the NRS) or local laws as well?
One way or another, wardens are being left high and dry by local police. As one warden said:
I have been out on request from on scene Deputies numerous times who want us to respond to a hunter near homes. We show up, check licenses and bags, etc. Then the Deputy asks us to make them leave or asks us what we can do about it. We tell them they have no violations besides their Ordinance and if they aren’t going to act on it and cite them or ask them to leave, why should we[?]
As far as local law enforcement not bothering with hunting violations, this is a classic case of “it’s not my problem.” I’ve seen this in my own law enforcement experience. Patrol deputies didn’t like going to traffic court and would give out warnings instead of citations. In their opinion, traffic enforcement was the Traffic Bureau’s problem. If it wasn’t a misdemeanor or a felony, they had no interest.
One answer is for NDOW to prepare cheat sheets and informational packets for local law enforcement as well as to train them. Like partnering up for the “sexy” issues like drug busts, there needs to be cross-training and joint enforcement of these hunting related problems. No more shirking of enforcement because it seems problematic for both sides.
If NDOW can’t enforce local ordinances, the legislature needs to fix that, not let the Commissioners create a statewide regulation because the system is broken at an officer/warden level. Now if wardens legally can’t enforce local ordinances, we need legislation to allow them to. Being specialists attuned to the problem and being obviously willing to do something about the problem, official sanction to cite these reckless and inconsiderate hunters would buoy their efforts.
What was also cited to support a statewide regulation was a lack of consistency between jurisdictions and some jurisdictions have no ordinances governing discharge of firearms at all. The “patchwork” was simply too much for them to keep track of, or so they claim. Along the Truckee, neighboring county ordinances clash, so that no one knows exactly what law applies where. Why not get the two counties together to figure out a complimentary ordinance? Why can’t the Commission narrowly tailor its regulations in various jurisdictions rather than apply a one-size fits all “solution” across the state?
Wardens, the Commission, and NDOW are apparently looking to take the easy way out by making a regulation that will negatively impact every hunter. There is, of course, the threat that politicians down the road use such a regulation to push a target shooting ban statewide. One regulation makes it easy for wardens, but harms the rest of us. This is a failure of law enforcement as a system. This is not an indictment of individual cops or wardens, as I have felt your pain, but this is an instance of “when your only tool is a hammer, all problems start to look like a nail.” We can do better than that.
Blanket regulations usurp local authority that knows best and is ultimately responsible to local residents. Regulations as they exist are fine. Ordinances may need tweaking, but wardens should express their concerns to local council members and commissioners and enforce local ordinances, even if deputies’ and officers’ reluctance is demoralizing.
Sportsmen have accused the Commission of being tone deaf to their concerns. There is considerable opinion in Nevada that NDOW and the Commission is over-reaching and exceeding its authority. One solution is to remove the Commission’s authority to make regulations and place it back with the Legislature or otherwise narrowly tailor it.
On a somewhat unrelated note, we need to talk about public relations and public records.
Why wasn’t this information better publicized? The first notice I received was an alert from the NRA-ILA that linked to the meeting notice. The meeting notice just proposed the “what” (the text of the proposed ban), but not the “why.” Maybe the “why” was somewhere else out there that I didn’t see. It could be, but if it was, I think that NDOW and the Commission had a major public relations failure. A paragraph or two explaining the problem would have done wonders.
Secondly, in a public records request to determine where these regulations came from, NDOW wanted one dollar a page. Under state law, a public agency can charge up to 50 cents per page of a copy of a public record and 50 cents per page for a request that requires an “extraordinary use” of resources to locate the record. Other agencies charge exorbitant fees, like Clark County that once wanted $100 to simply query the email server, calling it “computer programming.”
Electronic copies of records, PDFs of emails essentially, incur the agency no cost to reproduce (the law was written at a time when photocopies and snail mail were standard). Searching emails for a relatively narrow topic such as “How, why, and by whom this regulation was proposed, as well as any documents supporting the foregoing,” is not an “extraordinary use” of resources. If these emails can be forwarded to a member of the legislature, why can’t they quickly be saved as a PDF and emailed to a citizen?
Many public agencies use public record fees to stymie citizen oversight of their government. I have not had a problem getting similarly sized requests from other state agencies without fees. Some public entities have simply sent an email answering the implied questions, satisfying my curiosity. As an individual with nothing more than token ad revenue that barely covers costs, I cannot afford to pay for record requests on everything the public deserves to know about. Even large newspapers like the Review-Journal have been snubbed by public entities.
Nevada’s public records law needs reform to prevent fees acting as a barrier to citizen oversight. Between the state public records manual and state law, it’s up to interpretation, and often individual citizens do not have any way to prevail.