The governor says ‘No, No, No.’

Did God write the Second Amendment?
A photograph of Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo

Nevada’s Republican governor Joe Lombardo just vetoed three bills passed by the Democratic-controlled state legislature. One bill would have raised the age for legally possessing a semi-automatic, assault-style weapon from 18 to 21. Another would have made it illegal for anyone convicted of a hate crime in the last decade to own a gun. The third bill prohibited anyone from bringing a gun within 100 feet of an election site, plus added clarifying language around the outlawing of so-called “ghost guns,” those made with a kit and lacking a serial number.

But Lombardo said no, no, no to all of them, using his veto power for the first time this session.

Elections have consequences. Nevada Democrats won all but two national and statewide offices in the last election, but they lost the governorship. They did well in the legislature but ended up one vote short of a veto-proof majority.

So why shouldn’t Governor Lombardo use every weapon at his disposal to thwart his opponents? After all, he won. 

Because that’s not governing. It’s political theater pandering to a select slice of true believers. Namely, people who have with religious zeal turned the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution into nothing less than a false god — a golden calf, if not a golden goose (although the economics of it all are a story for another time).

I fell asleep in a chair the other day. I’m 74 and I can do that — any time, any place. I was transported to a time when our elected representatives — of contrasting political philosophies — all started with the same basic assumption: The fundamental principle of governing was to recognize needs, problems, and necessary changes, pass laws addressing them, and then go home.

Still in dreamland, senators, assemblymen and women, and the governor dispassionately assessed the facts, and recognized that gun violence was nothing less than a national scourge that had not, by any means, spared our state. For the record, the most deadly mass shooting in modern American history happened in Nevada. They gathered together and told themselves this was exactly the kind of problem they were elected to do something about. 

Next thing I knew my dog was licking my face. Back to reality, I took a look at the three laws in question and the Governor’s justifications for his vetoes. 

To begin with, the three laws are commendable, but actually pretty small. Each one addresses a specific situation but, even taken together, they would not change things much. We would still be the only first-world country in which weekly, if not daily, mass shootings are simply a fact of life, weapons of war, and the weapon of choice for mass murderers, are best sellers, and where the leading cause of death for children is being shot with a gun. 

The Governor’s response boiled down to a one-size-fits-all mantra, applied to any situation, and repeated as many times as necessary. Mantras are a sign of faith, meant to carry the day when all else fails. Need money but don’t have a job? Start chanting. Want to win the big game, even if you can’t play? Start chanting. 

Governor Lombardo’s goes like this: “I will not support legislation that infringes on the constitutional rights of Nevadans.” This works. Not so much in the real world, but for sure in the minds of the followers.  For them, the mantra is accepted at face value. Liturgy, after all, is not there to be questioned. 

What about raising the age for possessing an assault weapon from 18 to 21? Lawmakers have forever assumed that with age comes maturity. Those younger than a certain age lack the judgment, good sense, or appreciation of consequences to, for example, drive a car, drink alcohol or smoke pot, or even vote. That is presumably the rationale behind federal law, which only allows individuals under 21 years of age to purchase shotguns and rifles, not handguns. Current Nevada law simply defers to federal law in this respect. One would think expanding our law to keep semi-automatic rifles out of young hands would be a no-brainer, as they are vastly more deadly than the already prohibited six-shooters.

Cue the mantra, with fingers plugging ears: “I will not support, etc. etc.” 

If you detect a conflict between fact and dogma settled on the side of dogma, you’re catching on. Dogma not only wins but it is the only choice when you’ve turned the Second Amendment into a false god. A false god, technically speaking, is one whose worship blinds you to the pain and suffering it causes — especially pain and suffering right there in plain sight.  

In his veto, the governor cited a Supreme Court decision that held gun restrictions constitutional only if there is a historical tradition of similar regulations. And since the Founders did not restrict muskets, or dueling pistols, or weapons that would not be invented for 200 years, the Nevada Legislature was wrong to say twenty-first century teenagers shouldn’t possess AR-15s.

The Governor dismissed the other two laws with the same expression of fealty to “the constitutional rights of Nevadans.” In effect, he glossed over the difference between Nevadans who have a need for untraceable firearms and the perpetrators of hate crimes, and the rest of us. Worse yet, the one-time sheriff of Clark County has pitted potential victims — the people these laws are meant to protect — against potential criminals. And he only offers shelter to one side. 

The governor has vetoed three laws which, at best, would maybe put a partial ceiling on gun violence in Nevada. They would establish at least some limits on where, by whom, and with what Nevadans will be shot to death. But even this is too much, because zealotry cannot tolerate even the slightest doubt, not to mention deviation.

The Second Amendment is not the word of God, false or otherwise. It is not meant for worship — especially worship that has lost its way. It is meant to make our laws and government work better, and to make our lives better. 

So remember, elections have consequences.

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Our newsroom remains entirely independent. Published essays further public conversation to fulfill our civic responsibility to challenge authority, act independently of corporate or political influence, and invite dissent.

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