CARSON CITY — On the final night of the Route 91 Harvest festival, Nevada Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui was just Sandra, enjoying the star-studded country music lineup with more than 22,000 other fans.
It was her first time at Route 91, but it wasn’t her first country music festival. She’s been to Stagecoach, the three-day festival in California, and she’s traveled to Mexico for Luke Bryan’s four-night festival “Crash My Playa,” she told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
That night, Jauregui was at Route 91 with her then-fiancé, now-husband. But shortly after 10 p.m., the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history began to unfold.
“I called my sister when it was happening, and I dropped my cellphone,” Jauregui said while sitting in her office in snowy Carson City, pulling on a black ponytail wrapped around her wrist. “And so, she found out it was happening, and then from then on, she couldn’t reach me. My husband’s phone was dead and nobody could reach them, so they didn’t know what happened to us.”
No one in her immediate group was physically injured that night, but everyone saw things that no one should have to see, Jauregui said. Her sister didn’t find out she was OK until about 6 a.m..
“You don’t realize what stress you put on your family,” she said. “After that, you know, I kind of isolated myself. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, especially anybody I knew who knew I was there. And so, you realize that it’s a traumatic situation for them as well.”
Fewer than four days after the shooting, a group of Nevada legislators introduced a bill draft request to ban bump stocks — the device the Las Vegas gunman used to replicate automatic fire more than 1,100 rounds into the Route 91 crowd during his roughly 10-minute attack on the night of Oct. 1, 2017.
Fifty-eight people died and more than 800 were wounded.
Yet while Jauregui has always been a supporter of gun safety — she campaigned in 2016 on expanding background checks — this time, she was silent, she said.
“After attending the concert and going through that experience, most people would have thought I would have come out right away and been a champion for gun safety, but it actually was the opposite for me,” Jauregi said, still pulling on her ponytail. “It was something that I didn’t want to share. I didn’t want to relive that moment, you know. I kind of just wanted to keep it close.”
Most members in her own caucus didn’t know she was there, she said.
It wasn’t until the Parkland shooting happened in Florida on Feb. 14, 2018, which left 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students dead, that Jauregui began to climb out of the fog.
“I finally decided that … I was in a position to be able to use my experience — and holding elected office — to take action,” she said. “And I kind of felt that it was my obligation to do it.”
So she transitioned, campaigning — hard — in 2018 on gun safety.
“I came out and said, OK, if I win re-election, I’m going to take this head on — I’m going to need to make sure that no person ever has to relive that, or no family has to ever experience that with one of their family members again,” Jauregui said. “I wanted to make sure that we use this year, the first legislative year after 1 October, to fight gun violence.”
Closing out the first week of the state’s 80th legislative session, the same lawmakers who originally proposed the bump stocks ban have recognized Jauregui’s drive and taken a step back.
Senator Yvanna Cancela still plans a bill that would outright ban the sale, manufacture or possession of bump stocks, codifying into Nevada law the federal ban that goes into effect March 26.
“I didn’t know what a bump stock was until Oct. 1,” Cancela said. “And seeing what unfolded on Oct. 1 — and the way that bump stocks played a role in that — to me, it was a no-brainer that those shouldn’t be on store shelves. And I’m glad that the federal government took action banning them nationally.”
Jauregui is working on her, more “comprehensive,” bill that will include an outright ban on bump stocks and include other measures that she isn’t ready to name.
“It’s not even in the drafting stages yet,” Jauregui said. “We’re still trying to gather information as to what measures we can combine in this omnibus bill for public safety.”
And while being a mass shooting survivor has put her on the forefront of the initiative, she said, “it shouldn’t take a mass shooting like that to start this gun safety conversation.”
Cancela said that once introduced, she expects both bills, which originate in different chambers, to go through the standard vetting process.
“And one or both will end up being sent to the governor, if that’s the way the process works out,” she said.
Other gun measures
The NRA declined comment on both possible bump stock measures, instead focusing on the expected introduction of a new background checks initiative that is expected to get a vote this week to coincide with the Parkland anniversary.
“We have legislation that is being rushed through for political purposes in a secretive manner,” Dan Reid of the NRA said of the expected background check bill. “This is unfair to the people of Nevada to not engage and provide input and have an appropriate amount of time to review what is going to be put forward.”
Eric Herzik, the political science chairman at the University of Nevada, Reno, noted that the bump stock issue in Nevada was overtaken by the federal ban.
“And so, I’m sure that legislators, especially from Clark County, want to get some confirming language about the ban on bump stocks,” Herzik said. “But finding language or even policy that in a sense strengthens or deviates from the federal ban is going to be really hard to do. It’s like the feds jumped the Nevada game.”
Looking forward, he said, “the bitter action will be on increased background checks and other aspects of access to guns.”
“Bump stocks, that’s more or less done,” Herzik continued. “But the appetite to improve Nevada gun laws from the perspective of improving because of limiting access, that’s still there.”