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Community Divided On Nevada's Background Check Initiative

Alexa Ard

Question 1 on this year’s ballot asks voters whether background checks should be required on private gun sales and transfers, including those done online or at gun shows.

Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick reports.

“These are all rental firearms. You got your handguns all on the counter, you got your machine guns, your other fun guns.”

Jay Hawkins is the training manager for Reno Guns & Range, where people can try out and buy all types of firearms.

Credit Noah Glick
Reno Guns & Range offers customers the ability to buy and sample firearms in the range, but also offers classes on self-defense, concealed carry and tactical firearm training.

Guns are a hot topic in this year’s election, and in Nevada, a new background check initiative is on the ballot. If approved, Question 1 would require private gun sales and transfers to go through background checks at a licensed dealer.

Spokeswoman Jennifer Crowe is with Nevadans For Background Checks, the political action committee sponsoring the initiative. She says the measure is designed to use the state’s current background check system to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

“It’s about public safety. It’s about making our community safer and saving lives," Crowe says, "And if we can prevent a tragedy, we should do that.”

Crowe says the initiative focuses on criminals trying to obtain weapons, not law-abiding citizens who want to loan a gun to a friend to go hunting, or pass a family gun down the line.

“The real focus of the law is to go after felons, fugitives, domestic abusers who currently have easy access to guns in these private sales where these background checks are not required," she adds. "Nothing in Question 1 makes sharing or loaning guns illegal.”

But Hawkins, a former police officer, says the measure does nothing to deter criminals.

“Firearms themselves don’t go out on their own and cause harm. It’s the individual," he says. "Now an individual that is going to sell a firearm illegally or through non-legitimate means isn’t going to abide by this law.”

Washoe County Sheriff Chuck Allen agrees. He’s one of the 16 of 17 Nevada sheriffs who oppose Question 1. He says the measure puts a strain on law enforcement that’s already stretched thin.

“Where I’m hung up with this particular initiative is the fact that it’s taking law enforcement resources now, and potentially in the future if this is passed, going to enforce laws where other crimes are happening and other calls for service are in my opinion, more of a priority," he says.

But Former Washoe County Sheriff Mike Haley does support the background check initiative.

“It’s no different than any other law we have on the books," he says. "We know how to use our time. We know what probable cause is. This will be, in my humble opinion, not a burden as any other law is a burden, on public safety.”

Along with concerns about the effectiveness of the proposed changes and the potential burden of enforcing them, opponents also worry that this initiative is just the first step toward something else.

“I believe this is a roundabout back door to push for gun registration for the state of Nevada,” says Joe Compilli, owner of Silver State Firearms in Reno.

Sharon Oren, owner of Maccabee Arms in Reno says, “So nothing that have been proposed is not going to solve any crime. What it is going to cause is a firearm registry.”

Under current federal law, governmental bodies of any size are banned from creating gun registries, but licensed dealers are required to keep and maintain records of all sales and transfers at their store indefinitely.

Question 1, as it is currently written, doesn’t change that, but does require that background checks occur on all private sales and transfers across the state.

Credit Noah Glick
Training Manager Jay Hawkins shows off a training simulator room, where classes are held that teach people how to assess threats and prevent dangerous situations at home, the office or in public.

But no matter what happens, Jay Hawkins of Reno Guns & Range says it’s critical we start teaching people about firearms, so they can feel empowered, rather than afraid, to prevent a tragedy.

“That was the most tragic thing about Orlando," he says. "People were on the phone talking to loved ones about how they were going to die, instead of taking action to stop that. We’ve got to start taking responsibility for ourselves instead of expecting somebody else to do it for us.”

Jennifer Crowe with Nevadans For Background Checks says this measure is a responsible, proactive approach.

“Laws like Question 1 are sort of like seat belt laws. It’s also a lot about prevention, it’s about creating standards of behavior," she says. "No responsible gun owner that I know wants to give a gun or sell a gun to somebody who isn’t supposed to have it. And background checks are the system we have to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

According to the latest Las Vegas Review-Journal poll, the measure is supported by 54 percent of Nevadans. If passed, the law would go into effect January 1.

Noah Glick is a former content director and host at KUNR Public Radio.
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