by Eric Vought
At some point during the week, we visited a local antique shop with a delightful and eclectic collection (Antiques and Treasures on N. Sierra St— Wow! ). One of my purposes was to search for a replacement cane. The orthopedic cane I often carry is… multipurpose… and not legal for carry in Nevada (even if my CCW was honored for firearms, a separate permit would be required in NV). As a medieval reenactor and trained fencer, it has been a natural self-defense tool for me, particularly during the periods where I did not wish to touch a firearm.
The alternative cane I keep for places concealed-carry is not allowed is from piece of pecan cut from our land. I am not used to using it for long periods and it was leaving my hand badly bruised. The duck-head ‘century cane’ I once carried was among items stolen in a burglary. I had received the insurance money for it but had never gotten around to finding a replacement; now was probably a good time. I found a brass horse-head cane in a Celtic style that I liked and bought it.
Even if I did not require a cane much of the time, carrying a cane or stick is an excellent self-defense option, particularly when the attacker is too close to draw to or when a firearm puts friendlies at risk. A cane, ‘multipurpose’ or not, is a good way to deal with that close attacker without endangering bystanders. If it has that ‘little something extra’, you want to very carefully examine state laws and whether it may be lawfully carried under your permit (in Missouri and Kentucky, for instance, a CCW allows concealed carry of anything not explicitly disallowed and is not restricted to just firearms).
On Saturday evening, we checked in to the conference and received our conference badges, myself as a speaker, and my wife with press credentials. We had our 8-year-old daughter with us and were in our duty uniform (uniform polos with insignia, name tag, and service pins, cargo pants, and Sheriff’s Office jackets).Check-in was at the Silver Legacy hotel lobby, which we spent some time figuring out how to find. Even though casino-hotels usually have other things going on than gambling (e.g. restaurants, shows, and conferences), most of them make it deliberately difficult to get to anything without going through the casino first. Any attempt therefore to avoid dragging our daughter through the casino or avoiding the casino-open-carry issue was met with frustration. Given that they make most of their profits off the slots, wanting to lead everyone by them is understandable but very frustrating to people who are there for completely different purposes.
We had no issues at the Silver Legacy (yet) and went back through the Cal-Neva for dinner before going back to the time-share. Once again, we wound our way through the casino to get to the restaurant. Note that by this time, in addition to the Sheriff’s office jacket and uniform, we still had our Missouri county IDs clipped to our collars and the conference badges. We were both carrying first-responder radios and I had a small first-aid kit (marked “first-aid” and with a Red Cross CPR pouch). While at the Top Deck restaurant in the Cal-Neva, I noticed more security presence than the other night. At several points, they were ‘casually hanging around’ just outside the restaurant. Our uniforms and jackets did not match either the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office nor the local Sheriff’s Auxiliary so some curiosity/distrust is not only understandable but commendable depending on how it is handled. The fact that we were from an out-of-state organization should have been clear fairly quickly, however.
We finished eating, paid, went down the escalator, and walked back out of the casino with one security guard following a bit behind on the escalator and one obviously expecting us near the street entrance. We were never approached or spoken to, however. From there we walked back to the time-share.
On Sunday, I took a pair of classes at the Expo Center a couple of buildings down from the conference hotel. Afterwards, I caught a local ARES net on the radio handset and hung out outside the entrance to listen in and ask some questions about Skywarn in the area. I had pre-programmed several local repeaters on the walkies earlier in the week. I heard my wife log into the net as well from back at the time-share. Once again, I want to emphasize that I think it is irresponsible (or foolhardy) to carry a gun without making every effort to be able to communicate with local responders. We found out that the local ARES/CERT/Sheriff’s Auxiliary was holding a deployment exercise in connection to the conference reception that evening. I took some notes on that and listened to the repeater chatter throughout the afternoon as they were organizing. I had quite a bit of interaction with the local volunteers throughout the week and am writing a separate article on what I discovered (TBD).
That evening, I went to the reception at the Reno Auto Museum. My wife and I hung out with the ARES/CERT/Aux volunteers as they set up for traffic management and to escort the conference-goers progressing from the hotel to the reception. I met their Auxiliary coordinator, ARES EC, CERT coordinator, and EMD at various points. The fact that we were an armed auxiliary was a topic of interest for some but apparently not a problem to anyone (or not expressed). The volunteers were well-coordinated and highly professional in their conduct even in what was apparently a last-minute deployment.
At the reception, I sat with the Emergency Management Director of Zambia and a emergency management student. We had an interesting discussion about emergency response and volunteerism in Zambia as well as the issues we have encountered with fielding armed, non-peace-officer volunteers. No issue was taken with my open-carry at the museum, but then the place was chock full of emergency management people, some of them from domestic and foreign uniformed services.
The next day I went to a couple of talks, the three of us heard Brian Fagan (disaster climatologist) speak at the Silver Legacy over lunch, and we went to his book signing a building over. I was in dress uniform that day (button-up uniform shirt, TDUs, and SO jacket). One of the attendees stopped and asked me about the uniform, what we did. It turns out he was the speaker at a later presentation on Active Shooters exercises in healthcare settings.
It was, ironically, at his talk that I had my first issues with Silver Legacy security. The talk lead with the point that “it cannot happen here” is a reckless irresponsibility and described how the author participated in a full-scale exercise to respond to potential incidents in his hospital system (technically, his scenario dealt with a targeted shooting which is the more realistic threat for his industry rather than an open-ended “active shooter” incident). At the end of the speaker’s talk, the Silver Legacy Chief of Security approached me and asked if I had a firearm in my holster (since it is a full-flap, secured holster, it is not actually easy to tell from the outside). I said that it was and he asked if we talk over at the side. The gentlemen was polite and courteous throughout as was I.
He told me that the state of Nevada had a policy protecting open-carry, and I mentioned that I had been in contact with the WCSO prior to our coming to Nevada and after the change in CCW reciprocity to verify their laws. He said that although I was complying with the law, the casino had a policy (not posted) against open-carry and that he was ‘requesting’ that I not carry on their premises. He mentioned that ‘several patrons’ had mentioned to Security that ‘some guy was carrying a gun.’ I stated that under Nevada law, I understood that I was required to comply if requested to leave by the establishment and would do so, but pointed out that I was here for the conference at a talk on active shooters and was there to speak on an active shooter event which had occurred in a place where weapons had not been allowed.
The gentleman replied that he understood that, having been in law enforcement for 30 years, and that the management did not even allow him to carry. OK, let’s stop and think about that for a moment: they have a conference center which presumably has out-of-state visitors on a regular basis, Nevada recognizes relatively few states’ CCWs, they have a policy of disarming patrons open-carrying, and their own security was not armed. What, exactly, were they going to do if I or someone else actually presented a threat?
The Security Chief never asked to see my credentials or ID, presumably did not think that I was other than whom I appeared, nor did he act in any way as if I was a potential threat. OK, so if I was not a potential threat, why have the conversation (or policy) at all? If I was a potential threat, the approach was suicidal. Theresa Beavers, the unarmed security guard on duty that night at Simon’s Rock, was no more than a speed bump to an armed attacker and then the campus was open and undefended. She had neither been trained nor equipped for the role she ended up playing and spent several years of painful surgeries as the doctors tried to piece her back together. The Security Chief, if his statement is taken at face value, was enforcing a policy he did not agree with; the policy itself is reprehensible, not just toward the patrons but toward the security staff.
I met with the other members of my panel and the IAEM liaison the next morning (in the Silver Legacy) and mentioned the matter. Eyebrows went up when I mentioned that the security was not armed either. The Legacy did offer to check my handgun at the hotel desk, but because I was not staying at the hotel, I would have had to walk all the way through the casino (which I was not allowed to do) in order to take advantage of this. Because I was on foot and the event was spread over several buildings, this effectively prevented me from carrying at all, even outside the hotel/casino.
In the afternoon, around a few more talks, I went with the ARES EC to tour the county Emergency Operations Center (more on that elsewhere) and the three of us (wife, daughter, and myself) explored the Expo hall. That evening, after a stop at the time-share, I was back to carrying and we went to a local Italian restaurant.
That evening I escaped to the time-share business center to practice my talk. There was no one else there at the time, so I printed an extra copy of the slides and notes and paced back and forth as I timed my presentation. I had enough material for an hour but had to deliver in 12 minutes (plus questions). Each of the panelists had added extra materials to the presentations for people to go through at their leisure. In any case, I was still in uniform, talking to myself in an empty room, when one of the house-cleaning staff came through, who apparently did not understand much English. The building manager came by a few minutes later, quickly realized what I was up to, and we exchanged pleasantries.
On Wednesday was the panel presentation. The first presenters, the emergency manager from a prominent university, made a statement early on which was not in her slides or notes. Perhaps it was partly in response to the issue of the Silver Legacy security, perhaps not, but it summed up most of my frustration very succinctly: “if we prevent students from using their CCWs” on campus then we “assume full responsibility” for their protection and had darn well better get it right.
Here I was, giving a talk about the Simon’s Rock incident more than 20 years downstream, not allowed to be armed in a place which also refused to take that responsibility. The casino enforced its policy, clearly not out of legitimate and well-thought-out concerns for the safety of their patrons but for appearance and image: they were more concerned about not offending the patron worried about the “guy with a gun” who was in the uniform of a volunteer service, but had no problem offending a conference full of people who work to protect them. The casino also did not have the decency to even post their policy physically or online (presumably also not to give offense to people who might disagree). Another conference attendee posted on a CERT LinkedIn group I am a member of about a different incident with security.
One of the first questions asked by the audience was whether arming teachers was or should be part of the solution. Susan Fisher fielded it and then passed the microphone to me. The panel seemed in agreement that it is a solution which absolutely should be considered as part of a broader approach and given that issues of weapons retention, communications (so armed defenders don’t become friendly-fire casualties), and training are also tackled. I specifically brought up the Sparks, NV shooting and the fact that the teacher, though a decorated marine (apparently also serving national guard and former WCSO deputy), met his fate unarmed. Would it have made a difference? Maybe. What-if’s are always tricky, but it would have given him another and more appropriate tool than stopping bullets with his own body in order to let his students escape. I’m all for heroism, but I prefer heroism with a plan and while self-sacrifice may be noble and all that, it should not be necessary merely because we have failed to provide the people who care for our children on a daily basis anyway (and whom we trust in that capacity) with adequate tools/training/coordination to be more than a back-stop at a firing range. Even in Sparks, Nevada, where the district has spent quite a bit of time and money improving security in recent years, they have 38 officers for 118 schools and the chances of one of them being present at the start of an incident is very low. Initial response time in Sparks was 3 minutes, which is exceptionally good, but clearly just relying on licensed peace officers/SROs is never going to be enough by itself.
In any case, the talk went extremely well according to feedback of people who met me afterward. An emergency manager from one institution told me at the formal reception in the evening that he had immediately gone back to his room and spoken with his Security Officer because they had “been going about it all wrong.” Each program I can affect, every person I can encourage to think differently about the issues makes Galen and Nacunan’s deaths, the suffering of the victims, the personal hell I went through… well, in the end maybe it does count for something. Greg Gibson (the father of the student who died at the ‘Rock) and I recently had an email conversation about ‘making lemonade’: we each try to do that in our own ways. I’ve learned to take mine on the strong and tart side.
Part 3 of this travelogue will deal with the journey home (Wyoming, Nebraska) and wrap it all up.
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.