Steven Paddock, who killed at least 58 people and wounded more than 500 when he opened fire on a crowd from the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel Sunday night, reportedly had 23 weapons around him in his hotel room, and 19 more at his home.
Officials have not confirmed what type of guns these were, though Congress member Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he was briefed by the FBI and told there were fully automatic weapons in the cache. Given the noise the guns made as they were fired and mass damage Paddock accomplished in a short period of time it seems likely he used more than a standard rifle.
And in Nevada, it was perfectly legal for Paddock to own more than 40 weapons. It would be relatively easy for him to buy them. It would be legal for him to own a semi-automatic weapon, and while it’s generally illegal to own an automatic weapon in the US, there are exceptions that could have made it legal for him.
The fact that it could have been legal for a shooter to own the weapons that did so much damage in Las Vegas is a reminder of how broad America’s right to own a gun is, and how certain states take an expansive view of that right.
Nevada gun laws are lax
Overall, Nevada has generally permissive gun laws and has resisted efforts for tighter gun control. For many years, the state has scored an “F” from gun control advocacy groups. It’s worth noting, however, that many states in the West, the South and even parts of Northern New England have similar scores, whereas states like California, New York, and Massachusetts have much tighter laws.
Nevada also has an above-average gun homicide rate — 14.9 gun homicides per 100,000 people in 2015, compared to a national rate of 11.1.
Here are some of the state’s gun laws:
- You do not need a permit to buy rifles, shotguns, or handguns.
- You don’t need to register these weapons with the state and owners don’t need to be licensed.
- While gun owners need a permit to carry handguns, they don’t need the same in order to carry rifles and shotguns.
- Semi-automatic weapons are legal in Nevada, and the state does not regulate magazine capacity.
- Different rules apply depending on whether people are carrying an open or concealed gun; Nevada residents can open carry freely, but they have to have a permit if they are carrying a concealed weapon on their person.
- Children 14 years and older can handle or possess rifles or shotguns, as long as they are under the supervision of a parent or guardian doing things like hunting, target practice or practicing at a shooting range.
- Nevada has a “stand-your-ground” law, which allows deadly force to be used against someone who attacks you, even if that person isn’t armed with a weapon.
- Nevada law prohibits people who have been convicted of a crime, adjudicated mentally ill, or are addicted to substances from possessing firearms, but as of right now, the state does not perform background checks on people purchasing weapons.
In 2016, voters passed a ballot initiative that would require background checks on private guns sales. The state legislature had passed a similar law in 2013, but Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed it. The ballot initiative passed by a slim margin of 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent. But it was short-lived: Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt blocked the initiative from ever going into effect in December, saying that the FBI wasn’t willing to do the background checks, and initiative’s language didn’t give state officials the authority to perform them.
Automatic weapons are supposed to be banned, but they aren’t
Police have not yet confirmed publicly that Paddock used an automatic weapon in the shooting. If he did, it would be a rare moment.
Automatic weapons such as machine guns don’t tend to be used in mass shootings, for the simple reason that they’re one of the few types of guns banned in the United States. (Automatic weapons can fire bullets continuously on one pull of the trigger; semi-automatic weapons, which are far more common, require a shooter to pull the trigger to fire each bullet or burst of bullets.)
Congress banned the ownership and sale of any new fully automatic weapons in 1986. But guns manufactured before that date are grandfathered in and can still be bought, sold, and traded. Under federal law, would-be owners of fully automatic weapons must register the guns with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, pay for a $200 tax stamp and agree to be on a federal gun registry.
It’s also possible to convert a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon legally using a modification kit and bypass the registration, as Mother Jones reported in 2012.
There are 630,019 machine guns registered with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 11,700 of those guns are in Nevada, according to the Wall Street Journal. In Nevada, state laws allow people to own, buy, or sell machine guns or silencers, as long as they’re registered and in line with federal gun laws and regulations.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump alluded to possible changes to federal gun laws in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, telling reporters, “We’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes by.” Trump did not elaborate on whether the shooting has changed his own views on current law.