A shot in the dark

Public records show little benefit from handgun-registration program

After months of inquiries, the Las Vegas Metro Police Department has partially pulled back the curtain on its handgun-registration program.

Responding to a Nevada Journal public-record request, Metro on Dec. 17 provided copies of departmental correspondence between it and the National Rifle Association in January and March of 2010.

Throughout the correspondence, Metro acknowledges that it collects little data that might serve to justify the existence of the program to critics.

"The costs specific to handgun registration are not tracked separately," but are "charged throughout the numerous bureaus of the Department," reads the response forwarded to the NRA by Metro Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Lt. Tom Roberts.

Metro also told the NRA the department does not track how frequently the handgun-registration database is accessed, nor how many arrests, citations and convictions result from the information in the database each year.

Nor does Metro track how many "investigative leads" result from handgun-registration information.

Asked how many handguns are seized each year as a result of failures to register, Metro answered, "Unknown. Our Department impounds hundreds of weapons each year, and our system does not sort out the specific reason for impound."

In February, after receiving Metro's January answers and Roberts' invitation to seek any further clarification desired, the NRA's Nevada state liaison, Carrie Herbertson, followed up with additional questions.

Continuing to press for any objective data supporting the program, she noted that while Metro "has mounted a spirited defense of the program," that defense consists of "offering strongly held opinions and anecdotes."

"What objective data can you provide that ... would lead a reasonable person to conclude that there is a real law enforcement benefit to Clark County?" asked Herbertson.

On March 16, Roberts wrote back with answers to the NRA's questions. However, the answers still offered no objective statistical evidence in favor of Clark County's unique-in-Nevada gun-registration ordinance.

Instead, Metro offered three arguments:

  1. "Without handgun registration there is no mechanism to help prevent handguns from being acquired and retained by the criminal element through private party transfers."
  2. "Registered handguns are far more useful to criminal investigations because of the registration process which can provide leads to investigators into all areas of crime."
  3. "Because of the urban environment and the nature of the economy of Las Vegas and Clark County, it is imperative that law enforcement provide a safe environment for our residents and tourism guests to enjoy." 

"Like so much in police work," says Metro's response to the NRA, "it is difficult to say specifically that one particular aspect of law enforcement is responsible for a reduction in crime."

Metro's documents do not reveal exactly how much funding the department's handgun-registration operation receives. They do, however, report annual labor costs of $356,832 per year. Add in fiscal year 2009's reported $2,300 in paperwork costs and that yearly total comes to $359,158.84.

Alternatively, some NRA officials have estimated a much higher annual cost for the program.

"With funds spread out over the department, it's close to a million-dollar boondoggle," said Herbertson.

According to Metro, approximately 634,400 handgun-registration records are in its database, dating back to 1973. For the first quarter of FY 2009-10, 12,746 firearms were reported registered.

The NRA's Institute for Legislative Action reported that more than 850,000, or 45 percent, of Clark County residents own guns, suggesting 74 percent of the gun-owning population has a handgun registered with the GRD.

While the Clark County manager has a program audit scheduled for 2011 and Metro acknowledged it has not conducted any audits, Metro stated its gun-registration detail is required to submit quarterly reports to be reviewed by command staff.

The Clark County district attorney's office also lacks data regarding any reduction in crime produced by the county's handgun-registration ordinances.

According to a spokeswoman for David Roger, Clark County district attorney, the DA's office's gun-crimes unit handles any registration-related crimes but keeps no statistics on them.

It's the lack of specificity that troubles the program's critics.

"There's no audit and I just want them to show me something objective," Herbertson said. "Too often [Metro officials] defend the program's effectiveness using anecdotes as opposed to objective data."

According to State Sen. John Lee (D-Clark), seven handgun bill draft requests (BDRs) are on file for the upcoming legislative session.

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