Guns and booze won’t mix in Virginia City
Feel like strapping on your six-gun and joining others who show up in cowboy garb at the Bucket of Blood during the weekend?
Well, if you’re going to drink, better leave the sidearm at home, or at least in the car.
Storey County Sheriff Jim Miller said because some people have abused the privilege, he plans to more strictly enforce the county’s gunfighter ordinance than had been done in the past.
Miller said he is not planning on confiscating anyone’s guns, and wants gunfighters to feel welcome in Virginia City so long as they follow the law.
“We have guys coming up from Reno who want to carry loaded guns and drink beer,” he said. “They want to drink and carry a gun and look like cowboys. But you can see how easy that would be for someone drinking to accidentally put a live round in there and hurt someone.”
The gunfighter ordinance states those carrying weapons obtain a permit from the sheriff’s office that includes a background check. Permits cost $10, and must be produced if requested by a law enforcement officer.
The weapon must be holstered and must remain empty of all ammunitions at all times, unless the gunfighter is directly participating in a scheduled event.
Guns cannot be concealed and the carrying of live ammunition is prohibited.
And those wearing their six-guns can’t have a drink. No one wearing a weapon can consume alcohol or drugs in any form.
“We can’t have it mixed with alcohol,” Miller said. “Even if the gun isn’t loaded, they can’t drink alcohol and wear their gun.”
Miller said the gunfighters also are not supposed to remove their weapons at all, and can’t discharge anything unless they are in a show, and have the approval of the sheriff’s department.
The rules apply to all gunfighters and re-enactors, including Civil War re-enactors, Miller said.
The Virginia City Outlaws, a gunfighter group that have an outdoor theater on C Street and who perform during the summer months, will not be affected as long as they only fire in the theater, Miller said.
The Virginia City Convention and Tourism Authority sponsors a docent program called the “Virginia City Living Legends,” with many who dress up in period costumes, including six-guns, and who pose for photographs for tourists and give information about the town.
Joe Curtis, a member of the VCCTA board, said the stricter enforcement would not effect the program.
“I don’t perceive it to be any kind of a problem or a threat to the docent program,” he said.
Curtis said the stricter enforcement came about when several people with felony convictions were showing up in town dressed as gunfighters.
“They were doing it under the guise of the gunfighters,” he said.
David John, lead singer of the Comstock Cowboys, whose band attracts a lot of fans in cowboy garb, said the band and their fan club police themselves and don’t carry loaded weapons.
“There has never been a problem with the people that follow the Comstock Cowboys and there never will be,” he said. “We don’t need Big Brother breathing down our backs.”
John said if he had to make a choice, he’d give up the booze before he would give up his guns.
Curtis said the VCCTA would pay the $10 fee for all the docents in its program, and all docents have an ID card identifying them as “Living Legends.”
He said the Civil War re-enactors already have permits, as do members of some organized gunfighter groups.
“Accidents are a big concern,” he said. “If you have one of these guns and you have real ammunition the potential for accidents is great. You get someone intoxicated, they rip it (the gun) out of their holster, accidents can happen. Or maybe their ticked off. There are all kinds of things that can happen.”
Miller said they don’t want to discourage the docents or gunfighter groups, they just want to be safe.
“It will allow them to continue dressing up in their costumes,” he said. “It’s a good program for Virginia City, and we’re not going to take those guns away from them.”
Miller said the goal was to protect those participating in the program legally as well as residents and visitors.
Feelings among those who carry the guns were mixed.
Bob Russell, of Gardnerville, was supportive, at least with parts of the ordinance.
“There are a lot of people who should not have guns,” he said, adding gunfighters should not load their weapons or carry live ammunition. But he disagreed about not drinking while wearing an empty gun.
“If you have a carry permit or gunfighter permit, you should be able to have a beer or a mixed drink,” he said. “I love to wear the gun because I believe our Second Amendment allows that. There are people who don’t believe that.”
But others said it could negatively impact the town.
Stan Lennon of Pleasant Valley thought the increased enforcement would do more harm than good to Virginia City.
“In a few years, no one will be able to wear a gun,” he said. “They are going to destroy the Nevada way of life. I don’t need to wear a gun. I do it to preserve the Nevada way of life, with so many Californians coming in and changing things.”
George Kahabka, of Tonopah, thought it would hurt tourism.
“I don’t agree with the enforcement if it’s going to ruin the town of Virginia City,” he said. “We get asked by a lot of tourists in Virginia City to pose for pictures.”
Kahabka did agree that guns should be kept unloaded, but disagreed with not allowing someone carrying an unloaded gun to have a drink while wearing it.
“If they want to ruin the character of Virginia City and have a sterile town, I’ll go to Gardnerville,” he said.
But Bryan Staples, also known as The Sergeant-Major who participates in the docent program, said the law has been in place for many years and didn’t see it as a problem.
“That’s the way it is,” he said. “You can’t drink and wear your gun.”