by Eric Vought
I was recently invited to speak at the annual conference of the International Association of Emergency Managers in Reno, Nevada and we decided to take a bit of much-needed vacation at the same time; our daughter and I had never seen the Rockies, so taking some time to see Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada was worthwhile. Along the way, we dealt with the usual issues of carry across state lines, made more complicated by last-minute changes in Nevada policy. Here I detail some of those issues in the context of our road trip from Missouri.
My wife and I both have Missouri concealed carry permits and are officers in the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Auxiliary. Part of the reason for our organizations’ existence is to disburse trained and equipped volunteers in the community to respond to no-notice incidents. Our Sheriff encourages us to carry, not just firearms but basic means for first-aid and communications, at all times where it is permissible to do so— a philosophy which many sheep-dog-mentality (“On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs”, from the book, On Combat, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman) gun owners share. We take this duty seriously. At least one of us is armed, carrying a basic first aid kit and CPR barrier, and a radio almost every minute of every day. We have Go-Bags and more extensive emergency supplies in our vehicle.
When we began planning this trip, things looked straight-forward: Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Kansas all honored our Missouri CCWs. Kansas, Colorado, and Utah are all Castle-Doctrine states with laws similar to Missouri, so it did not appear that much research would be required before carrying there. Nevada is not a Castle-Doctrine state (some discussion here). It has fairly clear and reasonable legal protection for self-defense but one may still be charged or sued even if one eventually wins the case. All of the states involved allow carry in a vehicle (visible, concealed, on the person or otherwise) to those with a recognized permit. The conference facility also seemed to have no policy prohibiting concealed carry.
Suddenly, however, Nevada announced that they would be dropping recognition of Missouri concealed-carry permits as of 1 October (less than 30 days before our trip). They also dropped recognition of Arizona permits and dropped Utah in the last couple of years. No law changed: in Nevada, CCW reciprocity is determined by the state Sheriff’s Association with no review by legislators or voters.
One of the first things I did was examine Nevada law to see if we would be exempted because of our law enforcement connection: although we are not Peace Officers, we are commissioned by the county, our official duties require us to be armed and some states exempt various levels of government office from certain firearms laws. Because our trip to Nevada was for an official duty, this seemed a reasonable possibility. Unfortunately, Nevada only recognizes full-time regular Deputies for this purpose; by my read of the law, even our reserve Deputies would not be exempted (Nevada Revised Statutes 202.35; note that the exemption in 4(a) applies to “other appointed officers” of Nevada, but not to those of other states).
My next step was to examine the possibility of a temporary permit. Nevada law does allow the Sheriff of any Nevada county to issue a temporary permit, but very little detail on what this entailed was available online. Our Sheriff had no specific connections to Nevada law enforcement. I therefore looked up the Sheriff’s Office for Washoe County, Nevada, the county where Reno/Tahoe is located. I sent the under-Sheriff in charge of administration an official letter, providing copies of our commissions, our Missouri CCWs, the reason for our trip, and a request for a temporary permit for the dates of our stay.
I received two return phone calls from the WCSO. One of them was to request more information. The second one was to explain the state policies for temporary permits. Both were quite courteous. The upshot, however, was that they could only issue a temporary permit if the standard 8-hour CCW training course was conducted in the county of issuance. Proof of training elsewhere was not sufficient. Spending the time and money on an 8-hour course for a temporary permit did not seem very worthwhile, but I did briefly weigh the utility of actually applying for a Nevada permit. A Nevada non-resident permit, however, did not seem to be honored in enough other states (in which Missouri permits were not) to make that useful, either. The Deputy on the phone did however confirm that open-carry of a firearm was a feasible alternative in Nevada.
Further research revealed that both open and concealed-carry of firearms is permitted almost everywhere in Nevada with state-preemption of local laws (except in Las Vegas). Outside of churches, schools, and restricted-access public buildings, carry is lawful (that apparently includes restaurants, bars, casinos, whorehouses (I suppose they have to mention that in Nevada), and so forth). The owner of any establishment can ask someone to leave for any reason and they must comply under no-trespassing laws, however, and that is apparently frequently exercised with respect to open-carry and casinos.
For those not familiar with the technicalities of open-carry and concealed-carry, many states allow carry of a firearm which is not concealed without a permit even when they require a permit for concealed carry. This is particularly true of states which used to be western territories and they often have similar language in their state Constitutions. In Missouri, this is found in Article I Section 23:
“That the right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property, or when lawfully summoned in aid of the civil power, shall not be questioned; but this shall not justify the wearing of concealed weapons.”
Nevada Article I Section 11 protects the right of citizens “…to keep and bear arms for security and defense, for lawful hunting and recreational use and for other lawful purposes…” and no statute prohibits open-carry, so, by default, open-carry is protected in Nevada. Firearms in vehicles must be “clearly visible” unless carried with a permit.
In the event, carry across Kansas, Colorado, and Utah presented no difficulty. We were never pulled over, did not encounter carry prohibitions at rest stops, gas stations, restaurants, or hotels (in all of the states, a hotel room seems to count as a ‘domicile’ for the night, so Castle-Doctrine protections on one’s home kick in). Nor did we encounter any rampaging hordes, so it was mostly a non-issue. None of the hotels we stayed in until we got to the time-share in Nevada had an in-room safe (Travellodge and La Quinta), so consideration of security when unattended needs to be considered (we hardly ever leave a firearm unattended). We took some time to truck around Colorado Springs, Grand Junction, take pictures at the Continental Divide, and walk on the salt flats in Nevada.
We switched to open-carry in Utah a few exits before the Nevada border. Open-carry in Utah is restricted to unloaded weapons on public streets (often broadly interpreted, basically outside the vehicle and not on private property where you have permission to act otherwise). ‘Unloaded’ comes down to the ‘two-step rule’ as defined in Utah Code Title 76, Chapter 10, Section 502 (504 and 505 should also be read, some discussion on the Opencarry.org forum). For a semi-auto, this means not having a round chambered (working the slide and pulling the trigger are the ‘two steps’). For a (double-action) revolver, you need to have the chamber under the hammer and the next chamber unloaded (two trigger pulls equals two steps; by my read, a single-action revolvers only requires one chamber empty). This significantly impedes the utility of a revolver as it immediately reduces a six-round revolver to only four rounds. It should be noted, however, that this rule does not apply if you have a concealed-carry permit: if as we were, you are open-carrying while possessing a recognized CCW, you may carry the weapon loaded. You may also carry a handgun loaded or unloaded, concealed or unconcealed in your car with or without a permit. One must also contend with school zones in open-carry without a permit, 1000′ from the property line— let the traveler unfamiliar with the area beware. Our Utah open-carry was limited to a busy rest stop, but we encountered no issues.
Crossing into Nevada presented additional issues. Open-carry in Nevada requires that the firearm be ‘plainly visible’ if on your person in the vehicle. If it is not on your person (and not in a bag on your person such as a purse), it does not need to be visible. This appears to be identical to the rules for firearms without a permit in Missouri.
Nevada Revised Statutes specify that a concealed weapon “means a loaded or unloaded pistol, revolver or other firearm which is carried upon a person in such a manner as not to be discernible by ordinary observation.” Open-carry is simply carrying a firearm in such a way that it does not meet this definition. I tend to use either an 1880’s style shoulder holster with a strap across the chest or a full-flap holster on the belt. In and out of uniform, I often wear a long officer’s coat. This requires either that the shoulder holster be moved to the outside of the coat when putting it on (a pain and looks silly) or some similar fiddling. It is often easier to wear a short jacket and a belt holster or an open-front jacket clearly showing the shoulder holster. The weather has been warm enough that it has seldom been an issue.
Open-carry can be significantly more difficult for women than men. Purse-carry is obviously out. Many women’s styles are designed to flow over the waistline rather than tuck, making an inside waist-band holster likely to be considered concealed. Open-carry external belt holsters which fit a woman’s curves are not common and may be custom items. Typically, the space between the belt and the top of the holster needs to be blocked, segmented, or adjustable to allow it to adjust to the hip and allow a clean draw at a reasonable angle. I recommend that women considering this find out what is comfortable and allow for adjustments before going to a locality where they must open-carry.
It should be noted that even buildings which post no-weapons (outside of restricted access public buildings, schools, airport security zones, etc, restricted under law) are not technically closed to carry. Under Nevada law, such signs appear to have no force. However, as noted above, one may be asked to leave and must comply. Personally, I respect the right of a property owner to deny weapons if they desire to do so (whether or not I agree with them). On moral rather than legal grounds, this is something I do not intend to test. I will instead take my business elsewhere. I found a PDF pamphlet on Nevada carry linked through the opencarry.org forum which appears to be useful.
While in Nevada, we explored sections of the river walk, visited restaurants on S. Sierra, and walked through the Nev-Cal Casino on the way to it’s restaurant (there is no way to the restaurant without going through several casino areas, by design) with no problems so far. Security in the casino took no notice. Whether that depends on who is on duty or on rules which might change, I do not know. In general, casinos and bars do not interest us very much and we seldom need to explore issues of carry within them.
At large chains: Wal-Mart, Sams, Michael’s, etc., I have encountered no differences from my experience open-carrying in Missouri. Some people, including occasionally employees clearly stop to look, but no one has given us trouble. Sams and Wal-Mart both have a corporate policy of accepting whatever is allowed under state law. Typically, if an employee approaches me about the firearm, I will politely reiterate their corporate policy, occasionally they will verify that, and go on.
Given that I carry a public service radio and a first-aid kit, some people probably wrongly assume that I am a cop or correctly that I have some connection to emergency services. I’ll talk about the differences in reactions in and out of uniform in the next segment as I will be going back and forth to the conference itself.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and this article does not constitute legal advice. I have provided this information and links to sources in the hopes that it may be useful. Please explore the references and available material for yourself, being aware that laws and interpretations of laws frequently change. None of this material constitutes official opinion or policy of the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Auxiliary or of the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office.