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Background checks: Should they be expanded in Nevada?

Nevada Firearms Coalition

The Background Check Initiative would expand background checks to private gun sales made online and at gun shows. Reno Public Radio’s Michelle Bliss reports that if lawmakers don’t approve the changes this session, voters will have their say in 2016.

This topic arouses passion from both sides. Don Turner has formed a political action committee to fight the Background Check Initiative.

“I’m president of Nevada Firearms Coalition," Turner says. "I’m also president of Nevadans for State Gun Rights.”

On the other side is State Senator Debbie Smith:

“I’m a gun owner. We hunt. We have lots of guns, and I just don’t understand why I would be opposed to this idea.”

Over the past few years, Smith’s support for this type of gun control has only grown.

Debbie Smith: I actually have surprised myself at how strongly I felt about it last session and how strongly I feel about it now. And we’ve had a lot happen in this state since last session. We’ve had the Sparks Middle School shooting; we’ve had the Renown shooting; we’ve had the police officers killed in Southern Nevada, and many, many other things. Domestic violence—off the chart. So, things are not getting better. We need to take some steps.

Don Turner: Most mass shootings, for instance, the one in Tucson, the one in Aurora, Colorado, and some of those others, they would have passed the private party sale background check or they would have got their guns illegally anyway. So this law doesn’t do anything, except one really bad thing: It takes the authority to regulate firearms away from the state of Nevada and it transfers it to the federal government.

Turner fears that more background checks would help the FBI collect data for a national firearms registry. Right now, federal law says any identifying details collected during a background check must be destroyed to prevent that.

Turner also says that Nevada already has a lot of gun laws that aren’t being fully enforced.

Don Turner: The state already has a background check for private sales. It’s voluntary, but it’s a felony to sell a gun or give a gun to a prohibited possessor and it’s a felony for a prohibited possessor to have one, so all they’re doing now is making an additional law that makes the actual failure to check a crime when there’s already three or four crimes involved with it anyway.

Debbie Smith: When you buy a car from a dealer, and you go through all the steps, you pay sales tax, you license it, you do the same thing when you buy privately. Why would a gun not be the same way? The idea that I can buy a gun off the Internet and I can have a history of domestic violence and don’t have any business having a gun is terrifying to me.

For Smith and others in her camp, the Background Check Initiative isn’t just another law; it’s part of a larger campaign to stop gun violence.

Debbie Smith: It’s a ridiculous notion that any one thing is going to solve the whole issue of gun violence. This is one small step. There are probably fifty things or a hundred things you could do to stem gun violence, and this is one of them. So just because it won’t solve everything doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.

Don Turner: When we stack more and more laws on top of laws that aren’t being enforced, all we’re doing is taking away our freedoms, we’re not solving any problems. If this was the magic wand that was going to solve the problem, everyone would be behind it, but it’s not. And since it’s not going to solve the problem, next year there’s going to be another initiative, [like] banning bullets, I don’t know. But, as long as we tolerate criminals and their behavior, this is going to happen.

With a Republican-controlled legislature, it’s likely lawmakers won’t pass this initiative, which would push the issue to voters.

One indication of voter support may lie in the petition itself. Even though only about 100,000 signatures were needed to bring this idea to the ballot, organizers recorded the John Hancocks of more than 160,000 Nevadans.

Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.
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