UPDATE: Nevada's Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak has signed into law a bill that would require background checks on nearly all private gun sales and transfers.
It'll replace a measure passed by voters in 2016 with a version that no longer requires the FBI to conduct the background checks -- a provision that former-Republican Attorney General deemed unenforceable.
After signing the bill, Governor Sisolak told reporters that the passage of S.B. 143 was a long time in the making.
"This is something I heard about every single day on the campaign trail for a year and a half. People were very, very concerned with gun violence. Background checks [are] common sense and [are] going to save lives, I'm confident of that. I'm happy and honored to be able to sign it moving forward today."
Despite the swift passage of the measure, it will not go into effect until January 2nd, 2020.
At that time, anyone caught violating the law will be subject to either a gross-misdemeanor on a first offense or a Category-C felony for additional violations.
Lawmakers in Nevada may soon approve a bill that would amend the state’s embattled gun background check law once deemed unenforceable.
In 2016, Nevadans narrowly approved Question 1 – a measure requiring background checks for all gun sales and transfers in the state, even those between private parties. A few weeks later, then-Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt deemed the measure unenforceable due to a clause that required the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct the checks – something the agency refused to do.
Since then, the law has remained in legislative limbo.
For more than 8 hours, lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees held a joint hearing to examine a measure aimed at fully implementing the law.
“Our caucus is paying in that this is sensible background checks,” said Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, a Democrat from Las Vegas.
“This bill’s no different than what's been out there for years. The only difference is who’s going to be in charge of it.”
Essentially, the bill seeks to amend the language passed by voters in 2016 with a version that removes the problematic FBI requirement adding a workaround.
Basically, private individuals would have to go to any licensed dealer to run the check for all sales and transfers in the state. It’s a measure that Democrats call a straightforward fix; Republicans not so much.
"All this is going to do is burden people who are good, ordinary citizens who are going to be doing transactions,” said Senator Ira Hansen of Sparks. “No criminal in their right mind is going to go through a background check system before getting a firearm.”
Republicans members of the joint committee voiced several concerns through the course of the hearing. Most focused on whether the bill’s relatively broad nature would turn thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals who may inadvertently break the law.
Lawmakers weren’t the only ones with questions. As part of the public comment portion of the hearing, hundreds of guns rights advocates flooded the committee rooms in Carson City and Las Vegas to show opposition to the bill. Many of the critics voiced the same concerns as lawmakers over the broad nature of the measure. Others called it an infringement of the Second Amendment, with a minority arguing that the law would act as one step closer to a national gun registry and eventual confiscation of firearms.
“It does take a long time to run a background check,” said Debbie Block, the President and Founder of Reno Guns and Range. She says being forced to run background checks could raise serious financial concerns. “We have staff members who are on hold a half-hour, one hour, two hours sometimes, and that ties up my staff,” she said. “That’s money out of my pocket.”
Not everyone at the hearing was there in opposition. In a packed committee room, filled with a sea of critics, a handful of gun control advocates voiced support for the measure. Bert Heyman of Minden lost his son Chris to gun violence roughly 15 years ago in California. He says it’s possible that if background checks were standard across the country, his son may still be alive today.
“It doesn’t make any sense that if you can go with a background check in one state, and if you can’t pass it, and if you want to get a gun in another state, you can just go over the border. That’s what the guy did that killed our son,” said Heyman. “He couldn’t have gotten the Tec-9 in California. He couldn’t get the 50-round magazines."
There were also several survivors of the 1 October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, with many arguing, oftentimes emotionally, that preventive measure like background could save more lives in the future. Ultimately, the Democratic majority eventually voted to send the bill to the full Senate – offering Republicans zero opportunity to offer amendments they say would improve the overall effectiveness of the bill.
For Republicans like Senator Ira Hansen, the entire process has been frustrating.
”That was a kangaroo court from the word go. The fact is there are criminal elements, gangs especially, that don’t follow laws. You can pass laws all day long, and nothing is going to change that.”
Yet for Democrats like Governor Steve Sisolak, SB143 offers the chance to fulfill a campaign promise to enforce the wishes of the majority of Nevadans who voted to implement the law in the first place.
“I’m thrilled. It’s a long time getting here. I think it’s a good thing for the state of Nevada. This is what the voters asked for and I think it’s incumbent upon elected officials to carry out the will of the voters and that’s what we’re doing.”
The bill is expected to move through the rest of the legislative process quickly and could be on the Sisolak’s desk by the end of the week.