Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Allen’s decision to enforce new red flag laws — which allow for temporary confiscation of guns for people a judge deems “at risk” — has spurred a campaign to have him recalled.
Dawn Principe, owner of Sage Hill Arms gun store in Winnemucca and member of the 1,600-member Facebook group behind the recall campaign, said members plan to file a notice of intent with the county on Thursday to recall the sheriff on the grounds he is not “standing up” for their rights. According to the county clerk, the group will have 90 days from when it files to collect 502 signatures and, if successful, proceed with a recall committee.
“They’re taking up a fight against me on something the Legislature has to do, and they think I have the authority not to follow the law,” Allen said in an interview Wednesday with The Nevada Independent. “I do oppose this law. However, it's my not my job to oppose a law; my job is to enforce the law.”
According to Principe, the county has shown more support for protecting Second Amendment rights than the sheriff has. At a well-attended board meeting on Oct. 7, Humboldt County commissioners passed and signed a “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolution, joining Douglas, Elko, Nye and Lyon county commissions, which passed similar resolutions in March.
Since SB143, which contains updated provisions for background checks, and AB291 passed in the Democrat-controlled Legislature in 2019, Principe’s group has taken measures to protect their constitutional rights, which they say would be violated if the laws go into effect in January 2020 as scheduled.
The gun control measures have distressed members of rural and hunting communities who generally handle firearms more regularly than residents in urban centers. In cities, there has been a growing call for tighter gun restrictions in the wake of the shooting two years ago in Las Vegas and another in Gilroy, California earlier this year, in which the shooter used a gun purchased legally in Nevada.
Critics are especially concerned that red flag laws could be interpreted in a way that could lead law enforcement to confiscate firearms from law-abiding citizens who do not pose a danger.
Allen said reports that he said he would ‘seize guns out of their homes when they weren’t home,’ took his words out of context.
“What the questioning was is, ‘[Do] you get a SWAT team to go into the house?’ We do whatever we do to make it as safe as possible. And if what’s as safe as possible is to wait for that individual to leave the house, then that’s what we’ll do,” Allen said. “Most of the time there will be other laws that we’ll be able to apply.”
At the end of September, Allen attended a packed town hall where Humboldt residents, law enforcement and officials discussed the implications of the new gun control laws. Allen said he had presented information at that meeting about how concerned citizens may go through the process of appealing to deem the laws unconstitutional and reverse them.
The sheriff said law enforcement wouldn’t go “door to door, house to house” to take people’s guns, as some fear, clarifying that police would have to follow court orders and would have discretion to use other laws, such as domestic violence laws, that can be applied if law enforcement needed to take firearms from high-risk individuals.
“This is about the criminal element in people with serious, serious mental health issues. And [they are] the ones that need to be prohibited from possessing firearms,” Allen said.
Principe maintains that the new laws focus on high-risk and illegal gun owners at the expense of law-abiding citizens. To the counterpoint that tighter gun controls would have prevented the Gilroy shooter from purchasing his weapon in Nevada, she said the new laws do not guarantee an end to that sort of gun violence.
“The poor guy who sold that gun to the [Gilroy shooter], he’s trying to raise money for lawyers. That could happen to any of us,” Principe said on Tuesday. “You can’t infringe on the rights of people who obey the laws to control crazy people.”
As they collect signatures, Principe says the Humboldt recall group members have been working with Stand Up Nevada, which plans to file to recall Gov. Steve Sisolak for his support of the new gun legislation. The group also is working with Nevadans Citizen Action Network, which is raising money to get an injunction to stop AB291— the bill that includes the red flag provisions and bans accessories such as high-capacity magazines and bump stocks.
Allen says he is at a loss as how to sufficiently address Humboldt County residents’ concerns, and that he has spoken with Attorney General Aaron Ford and sent two requests this month to schedule a meeting with the governor on how to best enforce the laws, but has not heard back.
In response to several sheriffs’ statements in March that they would not enforce SB143, Sisolak said that he “[looked] forward to working with Attorney General Ford and local law enforcement” to review ways to enforce the law.
Sisolak did not answer a question from The Nevada Independent at an event late last month about whether he would support additional gun control laws in light of the Gilroy shooter legally purchasing his weapon from a gun store in Churchill County just south of Humboldt. California lawmakers have requested that Nevada lawmakers do so.