Background-check effort gains new life

CARSON CITY, Nev. — A late amendment to a bill mandating universal background checks for gun purchases in Nevada has given the effort renewed life in the state Legislature.

Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, presented the proposed change to SB221 to the Senate Finance Committee on Monday. The bill’s primary goal is to prevent mentally ill people from getting guns, Jones said previously.

Under the amendment, 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.

“The idea here is to move forward with the bill,” Jones, the primary sponsor of the bill, told The Associated Press. “This was a means of avoiding the fiscal note on the bill.”

As the state continues to crawl out of the recession, bills with fiscal notes face extra hurdles. In fact, this bill probably would have died without the change, said Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, the chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee.

“I think it would have been really, really tough to process with a $200,000 fiscal note,” Smith told the AP, adding that a vote on the bill is still not a sure thing.

The change raised questions about the feasibility of having some sales going through the state and others going directly to the federal system. Currently, all background checks are run through the state first, and then the state contacts the federal agency.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, is sponsoring another SB277 which is also aimed at stopping mentally ill people from gaining access to firearms, but he does not support SB221.

“My bill is targeted very specifically at people who are known to be dangerous, and have been diagnosed as mentally ill,” Kieckhefer said. “This puts an entire new scope on gun control in our state that I don’t feel comfortable with.”

Questions also arose around the potential for Jones’ bill requiring multiple background checks.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent a memorandum to federally licensed dealers earlier this year addressing background checks in private sales. The memo instructed dealers to transfer the gun directly to the buyer within seven days if the background check is approved.

But if the approval is denied or not immediate — and the seller leaves the firearm at the gun shop — the dealer is supposed to run a second background check to give the gun back to them.

“The only real exemption to a background check is for gun smithing,” Richard Brengman, a federal firearms dealer in Gardnerville told the committee. He added that he would have to take additional security precautions because many private sales involve expensive collector’s guns.

“I don’t really want to have to be responsible for holding a $20,000 gun,” he said.

The intent of the amendment is to save Nevada money by not requiring extra employees at the state criminal repository, but it remains to be seen if that is actually the case.

According to Julie Butler of the Nevada Department of Public Safety, it is not a sure thing that dealers would be allowed to directly access the federal system for private sales without going through the state repository.

Opponents to the measure said the financial burden would be transferred to federally licensed firearms dealers and the people selling firearms.

“It’s going to cost a considerable amount of money for someone to sell their firearm, and it may be a very inexpensive firearm,” said Janine Hansen, a state lobbyist for several conservative groups.

She added that requiring dealers to run the background check would likely incur fees on the seller above and beyond just the cost of the background check.

The amendment also mandates background checks on loaning guns to someone for 3 days or less — previously an exemption from the universal background check component.

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.

The committee took no action on the measure.


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