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Politics and Policy

Recent Shootings Raise Questions About Nevada's Gun Laws

A man takes aim at a target while shooting at a local range.
Paul Boger
KUNR Public Radio
A man takes aim at a target while shooting at a local range.

The recent mass shootings in Texas, Ohio and California have, once again, raised concerns about gun laws around the country. Case in point: the Gilroy shooting, which left three people dead and a dozen more injured at a festival last month. According to police, the shooter used a semi-automatic rifle, known as a WASR 10, purchased legally at a gun shop in Fallon before it was taken across state lines to California where that firearm is banned. 

That’s raised questions about whether Nevada’s comparatively weaker gun laws have circumvented California's efforts to crack down on gun violence. To talk about those laws, KUNR's Bree Zender spoke with Senior Reporter Paul Boger.

So, let's talk about the specifics of what happened here. What do we know?

Well, we don’t know a whole lot about the motivations of the shooter. Police are still investigating that angle, but during a press conference, the FBI announced that they are investigating the shooting as an act of domestic terrorism.

What we know is that he was 19. He was a native of Gilroy, California, but some time during the spring of this year, the shooter moved into a small apartment in Mineral County, along Walker Lake. It’s during his time here in Nevada that he bought the gun used in the shooting.

And that's where this criticism of Nevada's gun laws come into play, correct?

Exactly. It was reported that the gun used in the shooting in California was ordered online from a place called Big Mike’s Guns and Ammo out of Fallon.

Now that gun, which you mentioned before, was a WASR-10, a semi-automatic weapon that’s banned in California...but not here.

As a matter of fact, in Nevada, not only is the gun legal, but a Nevadan can walk into a gun store and leave with that style weapon the same day, providing you pass the state-mandated background check. That’s a process that can take as little as five to ten minutes.

One thing I'm curious about is just how easy is it for a resident of California to buy a gun in Nevada and take it across state lines?

Well, not easy at all actually. As a matter of fact, a combination of federal and state laws prohibit Californians from buying guns in Nevada and leaving the state with them, at least legally. I actually spoke to Jay Hawkins; he’s a manager at Reno Guns and Range, and he says Californians cannot legally leave the Silver State with a gun they purchased here.

“A person who resides from the state of California [sic] cannot, upon purchasing a firearm, take possession of the firearm in the state of Nevada," said Hawkins. "That firearm must be transferred to a federally-licensed dealer in the state of California, where they would actually go through all the process that California requires for them to take possession.”

In other words, if a California resident buys a gun from a licensed dealer in Nevada, before they can have it, it has to be sent to a licensed dealer in California where they buyer has to wait another ten days before they can pick up the firearm. And that’s if they can buy it at all. If the gun is illegal, the receiving dealer is required to refuse the gun and will send it back. And to top it all off, if a gun dealer is found to have sold a gun illegally, they could lose their license and could face criminal charges.

Hawkins says those hoops that Californians have to go through to purchase a gun in Nevada often makes the whole process undesirable.

“We get people that come in to inquire, but when they find out the process and the fact that they cannot take possession, then they usually go back.”

However, that doesn’t seem to stop guns with links to Nevada from being used in crimes in other states. Here’s Allison Anderman, the managing attorney for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

"Nevada supplied crime-guns to other states at the third-highest rate among the states. So, Nevada exported crime guns at more times the national rate."

But didn't Nevada pass stricter gun control legislation during the legislative session earlier this year?

Lawmakers did pass several new gun-related bills earlier this year.

First and foremost, the legislature approved a workable version of the expanded gun background check law approved by voters in 2016. That requires a background check for all private sales and transfers in the state starting in January of 2020.

Lawmakers also passed what’s called 'red flag' legislation. Essentially, the law, which also goes into effect next year, would give the courts and law enforcement more leeway to temporarily seize guns from people who may be reported as a danger to themselves or others, but, honestly, I’m not sure how much these laws would have affected this particular situation.

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