A maelstrom of debate Tuesday on universal background checks in Nevada commanded attention as an Assembly committee listened to hours of debate in the morning and a competing, last-minute measure was introduced hours later by Senate Republicans.
The Legislature is set to adjourn for the session in less than a week.
The Democratic effort, SB221, requires universal background checks with some exceptions and was debated before the Assembly Judiciary Committee for hours with passionate pleas from both sides of the issue.
“We need to do something — something meaningful — to keep guns out of those who shouldn’t have them,” said Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, adding that his motivation for the proposal was the concern of parents from his district. “I can’t look concerned parents in the eye if I stood idly by.”
Unless the bill is amended, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval would veto the measure, spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner said in an email.
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.
“If we can stop one person from getting a gun, and prevent one person from being killed — prevent one family from going through that — then I think that’s a no-brainer,” said Amanda Hoover, whose cousin was killed in the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting last summer.
Previously, Nevada law enforcement agencies had thrown their full support behind the bill, but that changed Tuesday when a Nevada Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association representative told lawmakers the organization now opposes the bill.
“We supported it at first because it appeared to be a good idea, but upon further review, we realized it was unenforceable and its effectiveness is questionable,” Sheriff’s and Chief’s Association representative Bob Roshak told The Associated Press.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police representative Chuck Callaway said the department supports the bill as a step in the right direction, but he added that the current background check system for handguns in Las Vegas is adequate. Any background check system is better than no system, Callaway said previously.
“I’m not here to suggest this bill is the magical solution to our problems, but it is a step in the right direction,” Jones said.
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 to the dealers.
Republicans in the Legislature teamed with Sandoval on Tuesday to introduce another bill designed to mirror the mental health components of Jones’ bill while replacing the mandatory background check requirements with incentives to encourage more voluntary background checks.
“Individuals with mental illness who have been determined to be a danger to themselves or the community should not have access to guns. It is critically important that we take steps to improve how Nevada reports these individuals,” Sandoval said in a statement.
The sections of the Democratic bill dealing with mental health 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 mental illness 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.
Most opponents supported those mental health provisions. The opposition centered predominantly on three facets of the background check sections: it causes an undue burden on a 2nd Amendment right, it is unenforceable and it would do little to curtail gun violence.
“Prohibited buyers do not submit themselves to background checks unless they are really oblivious or just plain stupid,” said Steve Johnston, a Reno-based federally licensed firearms dealer. “Even requiring private parties to do background checks — criminals still would not submit them.”
The committee took no action on SB221 on Tuesday.