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Joe Downtown: Why Sunday’s shootings could mean new regulations on the Fremont Street Experience

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Jerad Miller, who gunned down three people last weekend with his wife Amanda, reportedly wore costumes to earn money on the Strip and Fremont.

The online videos of Jerad Miller in a Joker’s outfit, with scrawled red lipstick à la Heath Ledger, are chilling. Not just because Miller’s message of disgust and hatred for government—an ideology he apparently spewed to anyone who would stand long enough to listen—led him and his wife, Amanda, to murder two Metro officers and a citizen who tried to stop the killing spree on Sunday. The videos are chilling because reports have said Miller would dress up in costume to earn money on the Las Vegas Strip and Fremont Street Experience.

Las Vegas’ many street performers aren’t officially businesses, mind you, because SpongeBob, Iron Man and other superheroes only hope for donations from people who take a picture with them; they don’t charge a fee. That means they aren’t required to seek business licenses or permits. That’s odd for Las Vegas, which for some 40 years or more has had laws on the books requiring “work cards” for everyone from carnival workers to fortune tellers. Prospective employees pay a fee to get the work card, which is granted only after Metro does a criminal background check.

Jobs were at a premium during the recession, so Las Vegas and Clark County exempted several occupations, such as cleaning services, from the relatively costly work card law. Meanwhile, the numbers of buskers—those who dress up or sing or play bongos or entertain on the sidewalks in any way conceivable—grew. People who lost their jobs to the recession sought the street to make ends meet.

The result? Utter chaos Downtown. There are so many people visiting the neighborhood and so many entertainers that “it’s a bit overwhelming,” admits Tod Story, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

Story’s opinion is important. For years, the ACLU has legally fought back attempts by the City of Las Vegas to limit free speech on the Fremont Street Experience, which was built with an additional room tax on Downtown casinos but is maintained and managed by the Experience.

“The blanket ban (on protected free speech) was what we were fighting before,” Story says. “You can’t just ban people you don’t like from going into a public space.”

Then Sunday happened.

News that Miller may have been a street entertainer spread quickly. Las Vegas Councilman Bob Beers said Metro has identified other street entertainers as sex offenders. At the same time, merchants—both the casinos and street vendors—are reporting that business is suffering because of the chaotic atmosphere under the Experience canopy.​

It has all led to “pitched discussions” in City Hall, Beers added. The shootings Sunday might have focused those discussions, but the question remains: What can be done?

A license or permit of some kind has almost been ruled out, Beers said, because similar requirements have been struck down as constitutional violations in other municipalities.

However, that might not exclude registration or distance requirements.

And guess who mentioned those as ideas adopted in other cities?

Story from the ACLU.

“Our main concern with the performers on Fremont Street is that their constitutional rights be protected,” Story says. “They have a right to be there, to associate and to speak or, in this case, perform.

“Some ordinances … that govern performers might include distance requirements, as well as some kind of registration. Some say your face can’t be covered.”

Might a registration also include a criminal background check?

“The devil is in the details,” Story says.

In Miller’s case, he was hidden under green hair, red lipstick and white face paint.

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Joe Schoenmann

A native Wisconsinite, Joe earned a journalism degree to get out of college early but wanted none of the craft ...

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