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George Knapp: Time to draw a line

<p>George Knapp</p>

George Knapp

The fact that more than 20,000 people spent at least part of their New Year’s Eve weekend attending a Las Vegas gun show is not comforting.

To begin with, I am not the prototypical media liberal who hates guns. I am a gun owner, and the Viking and I occasional spend time in the desert, learning how to defend ourselves against a possible attack by aluminum cans. In no way do I favor the government confiscation of guns.

But after Newtown, after Aurora, after Gabby Giffords, the shootout at the Las Vegas federal courthouse and countless other examples of gunmen run amok, it really does seem like the right time to draw a line, to take some kind of stand, even if it ends up being a toothless gesture.

As I watched coverage of the 300,000 or so people gathered in Las Vegas to welcome in the New Year, I was once again amazed to see the huge drunken bash end with little bloodshed. Give credit to Metro and other public entities for doing so much groundwork to maintain order during the big party.

But the fact is — and every lawman I know admits it privately — a single gunman with a bad attitude could shut our town down simply by launching a rampage in the New Year’s Eve crowd. One man carrying an assault weapon or two could kill dozens of people before anyone could stop him. It might take years for our city to recover from the negative publicity.

I have heard all of the arguments about gun control, about how there are too many laws with too many loopholes, about how the Newtown killer would have had access to guns regardless of gun-control laws, about how mental-health services stink and mood-altering drugs are overprescribed and video games contribute to violence and about how it is people who kill, not guns.

Still, it seems to me that when there are (according to one Small Arms Survey) more than 80 guns for every 100 Americans, we have too many guns. Buying more guns so that we are prepared to defend our homes against criminals or government tyrants seems to be counterproductive at some point. This kind of escalation reminds me of our now-discredited nuclear weapons policy. If we keep building up our stockpiles, the chances increase that we will one day use the weapons.

President Obama has done squat on the gun issue. Yet every time some whackjob on the Internet whispers a rumor about pending gun control, we all run out and buy piles of guns and ammo to stash in our bunkers. It happened again this weekend, people scrambling to acquire more and more precious, beloved guns before the big crackdown comes. The gun companies have got to love it whenever there’s a tragedy like Newtown because the public reaction is always the same — go buy more guns and ammo. If I had a conspiratorial mind, I would almost think some of these tragic events were staged for the benefit of the gun industry. They certainly are exploited by that industry. Bloody rampages are always good for the gun companies.

I seriously doubt that any meaningful reform will be enacted by our leaders. They’ve shown little fortitude to take on tough issues in recent years, and this one seems too tough for anyone to handle. But a futile gesture isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As a society, we need to draw a line in the sand one of these days.

And, by the way, if you want to look at a central factor in America’s ridiculous level of gun violence, take a look at the failed war on drugs. It’s a major reason why we are awash in guns and why so many people die from guns. Three countries in the world have higher gun homicide rates that does the U.S. — El Salvador, Guatemala and Jamaica.

Think about what those countries have in common.

Getting serious about the illegal drug trade is far less likely to happen than meaningful gun control, but if we ever want to put a dent in gun deaths, then it’s an issue we need to tackle.


Is the law finally focusing its gaze on the Las Vegas sex industry? A strip club executive named Manny Varagiannis was busted for allegedly trying to hide more than $2 million in cash earned from an escort service he ran with his wife. Varagiannis was in charge of “transportation” at Olympic Garden — that is, he handed out money to limo and taxi drivers for delivering customers to the front door. His familiarity with what went on inside the limos apparently inspired Manny to open his own escort company, and the money rolled in. Weeks after he was busted on federal money-laundering charges, a law-enforcement task force came down hard on CLS Limo, a high-profile firm that lawmen believe was up to its neck in hookers and blow. It’s not a surprise that some limo drivers are willing to sell sex and drugs to their passengers, but CLS allegedly took things to a whole different level. Federal agents think the head of the company openly demanded kickbacks from his drivers, a piece of whatever action they were generating. Although there is no definitive connection between CLS and Varagiannis, it is entirely possible that one will emerge this year. Is Las Vegas finally drawing a line in the dirt when it comes to sex for sale? … Expect to see some sort of overarching agreement between local governments and the adult-entertainment industry in the coming year, a deal in which the more egregious eyesores of the sex trade will shrink into the background. A few of the cooler heads in the adult biz have been quietly working on long-overdue changes, the kind that would be greatly welcomed by locals fed up with having prostitution services advertised so openly on our streets. … I find myself rooting for former County Commissioner Lance Malone. Malone went to prison for his role in the G-Sting political scandal, served more time than any of the other figures in that wretched mess, but emerged from prison with no noticeable bitterness or baggage. As reported in this space months ago, Malone now runs Pop’s Pizza on the Strip, a business financed by his longtime attorney, Dominic Gentile. Las Vegas is a city of second chances, and Malone deserves his. Plus, his pizza is excellent. … No matter what happens in the criminal case filed by the feds against longtime District Court Judge Steven Jones, the judge is toast. He’s accused of being a key player in a multimillion-dollar fraud operation, but is also facing a sticky matter before the Judicial Discipline Commission stemming from an audacious affair he had with a female attorney who gushed in public about her black-robed stud muffin. The tawdry details led to a major fight with the DA’s office, but it is not the first time Jones’ personal behavior has embarrassed the court. A Family Court judge who is repeatedly involved in violent domestic episodes with assorted women is not exactly a role model for the court. Even if Jones can beat the federal charges, and if the Judicial Discipline folks roll over and play dead on the ethics allegations (not entirely unheard of), Jones will never be re-elected to the bench. … Another district judge, Valerie Vega, is also due for some heartache in 2013. Vega was caught red-handed changing her court proceedings and trial schedules to accommodate her personal whims, most notably so she could attend her daughter’s afternoon soccer games. The Judicial Discipline folks are moving ahead with the complaint filed against Vega, and she is reportedly still fuming about it, blaming all sorts of people at the courthouse for her embarrassment. I have a feeling that at least some of Vega’s colleagues on the bench — meaning the majority who work hard and put the job first — think she had it coming. …

GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Reach him at