Legislation mandating universal background checks for gun transactions in Nevada cleared the Senate on Wednesday along a party lines vote.
Passionate opinions flared from both sides of the aisle, with Democrats trumpeting Senate Bill 221 as a step in the right direction toward reducing gun violence in the Silver State that needed to go into effect right now.
“Too many innocent children and college students have been maimed from political foot dragging,” said Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, urging his peers’ support. With the Senate’s 11-10 nod of approval, Jones’ bill heads to the Assembly.
The proposal requires a background check almost any time a firearm changes hands — regardless of whether the exchange is permanent or a loan. Penalties for those who hand over weapons improperly include loss of gun rights for two years and, in some cases, prison.
Background checks on all private sales would go through federal firearms dealers directly to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, bypassing the state background system and associated costs to the state, but the purchaser would owe an extra $30.
Parents of those slain in the Sandy Hook shooting, the wife of a National Guardsman killed in the Carson City IHOP massacre, and a man shot in the head at the shooting of then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., lobbied legislators over the last two days to support the bill.
Several senators also shared stories of family members lost to guns, but not all of them supported the expanded background checks.
“My dad did die at the hand of a gun, and I don’t blame the gun,” Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said.
Many Republicans praised the intentions of the bill but said it would be unenforceable and would do little to stop criminals from acquiring guns illegally.
“Trying to create and impose some kind of regulatory regime on the sale and transfer of firearms by private citizens is irrefutably impossible,” Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, said. “Passing this bill will do little — if anything — beyond making us feel good about passing a bill.”
The measure’s opponents offered an amendment meant to encourage more voluntary background checks, but that proposal failed on a voice vote. For one Republican, the government having a record of citizens’ gun purchases was an unnerving thought in light of recent federal scandals in Washington.
“We can’t keep the federal government and state government out of our personal lives in tax records, and it gives me great concerns about giving the government personal information about our gun purchases,” Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, said.
Other sections of the bill require psychiatrists to report if a mentally ill person makes a specific threat toward themselves or someone else, and adds defendants whose court cases end with a finding of mentally ill to the list of people prohibited from having firearms. It also mandates faster reporting of court findings that a person is mentally defective and shouldn’t have guns.
Jones called Wednesday’s vote “historic,” and Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said it signified the start of curing America’s “cancer” of having too many guns.
“This is not the end,” Segerblom said. “This is the beginning.”