Issues

Family Told No ‘Right to Bear Arms’ While Raising Foster Children

Nevada looks at changing regulation

Valerie and Brian Wilson / Screenshot from YouTube

A couple in Nevada is seeking a change to state law after being denied a license to raise foster children due to a regulation that bars foster parents from carrying loaded firearms.

Wilson and his wife Valerie applied to become foster parents in 2013. After a three-month process, which included "ten weeks of parenting classes and multiple home study visits," the couple was told that they would be denied foster parent status because of their refusal to comply with a demand from the state’s  Department of Family Services that they not carry any weapons when foster children are present.

"There’s kids who need homes. There’s people who want to give it to them and they’re turning them away," said Brian Wilson. "If they were to turn around and deny our right to foster a child because we had a Bible or Koran, they’d be screaming from the heavens, ‘How dare somebody infringe upon somebody’s First Amendment rights?’"

The Wilsons had applied for a waiver to the gun carry restriction but were denied.

A letter to the couple from the Clark County Department of Family Services said, "The applicants stated they would not be able to comply with this regulation if licensed due to having a concealed weapons permit to carry their personal defense weapon on their physical body," the letter said.

The Wilsons testified before the Nevada Assembly’s Judiciary Committee last week.

"I’m really heartbroken that the Department of Child and Family Services gave us this denial letter," Valerie Wilson told the committee. "I really want a family."

"It’s been our plan all along."

The couple supports a bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R-Las Vegas), that would change Nevada Department of Health and Human Services’ regulations requiring firearms to be unloaded and inoperable any time foster children are present with their foster parents.

"We have children in need of great foster care, and we have had people that are law-abiding citizens that have gotten their background checks, that have their CCWs [concealed carry permits], literally denied to foster a child because they have a concealed-weapons permit," Fiore said during the hearing. "This bill is for our children in foster care to help them find better homes."

Reaction to the bill within the committee was mostly positive.

"I was really shocked to hear about this current law because I grew up with a father who was in law enforcement and we were exposed to guns my entire life," Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman (R-Clark County) said during the hearing. "I am now a CCW holder."

"I just want to thank you for bringing this forward so we can get kids into really good homes."

The Nevada Firearms Coalition, a gun rights group connected to the National Rifle Association and National Shooting Sports Foundation, is also supporting the bill. "Citizens should not be denied the opportunity to be participants in the foster care program because they own firearms," the group’s president Don Turner said in a letter to the committee.  "Safe storage and security from unauthorized and at risk persons is the critical component of firearms safety in the home and this bill adequately addresses these issues."

Not everyone supports allowing foster parents to carry firearms.

Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz (D-Clark County) expressed some concern with the bill. "We know that being a foster parent is not necessarily a right," she said before expressing skepticism about placing children who may fear gun violence in a home with a gun, and about the quality of the firearms storage system mandated by the bill.

Jill Marano, the deputy Administrator of the child and family services division of Nevada’s Department of Health and Human Services, echoed Diaz’s sentiment that being a foster parent is not a right. She argued that foster children are at greater risk than other children "to use firearms on themselves or others."

"That’s why our current regulation is prescriptive in how those weapons and the ammunition are stored," she said. She added that Nevada’s regulation is in line with those in the majority of other states.

Assemblywoman Fiore is not satisfied by that explanation.

"It’s a real simple bill and the bottom line is we have our child welfare agencies denying great law-abiding citizens, couples, police officers the right to foster," Fiore said. "What they’ve basically said was it’s not a right to foster, it’s a privilege."

"I understand that. However, if you walk around and you see these children that are in need of foster parents and they’re denying these foster parents that are willing and incredible individuals and law abiding citizens and they’re denying them simply because they have their concealed weapons permit there is something definitely wrong with that."

Brian Wilson said that he and his wife will continue to advocate for the opportunity to become foster parents.

"My hope is this bill will pass and we’ll be able to move ahead and foster and adopt a child," he said.