Victims of gun violence from across the country continued the push for gun control in Nevada on Friday with a news conference urging support for a bill mandating background checks on all gun sales in the state.
The latest high-profile push came from former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, who trumpeted SB221 as a nonintrusive public safety measure.
“It’s going to make it more difficult for criminals to get guns. There is no doubt about that,” Kelly said. “But most importantly, it is going to save peoples’ lives.”
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 the loss of gun rights for two years and, in some cases, prison.
“We are really talking about children’s lives when we talk about SB221,” said Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, the bill’s sponsor.
He added that he is working on an amendment, and a committee vote could come as early as Saturday. The regular session is set to adjourn Monday night.
Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval would veto the measure in its current form, spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner has said.
The bill has recently become a focus of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s national advocacy group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Several of the state’s most influential lobbyists were hired by the group earlier this month, and a public support campaign has included Facebook advertisements and phone calls urging constituents to call their representatives. Materials are being mailed out in the district that Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, represents, attacking the senator for opposing the bill.
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars” have been spent on trying to get the bill into law, Jones said.
Many recent hearings have included victims of high-profile shootings across the country voicing support for the bill. The opposition has been primarily from Nevadan citizens.
“It’s absolutely telling,” Ron Sims, a licensed Nevadan gun dealer, said of the composition of support and opposition. “Nevadans don’t want this.”
Regardless of Jones’ stated intentions of not contributing to any sort of gun owner database, opponents at almost every hearing have expressed fear that universal background checks are a precursor to gun registration and a violation of Constitutional rights.
“The intention of this law is to come back later and say, ‘we have this law and it doesn’t work — people can still sell to these people with no recourse,’” Sims said. “The only way to fix that is through a registration, and that’s exactly the same progression we’ve seen in California.”
Over the course of selling “tens of thousands of guns” in his career, less than five times has a buyer been rejected — primarily because prohibited buyers don’t submit to background checks, Sims said.
“I don’t believe this will stop anything,” he said.
The state’s law enforcement community is divided on the issue.
Nevada Attorney General Catherine Masto threw her support behind the bill Friday, joining the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. But her decision comes three days after the Nevada Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association announced it had changed its opinion and now opposed the bill because it is unenforceable.
While catching every private sale is impossible, enforcing the requirement at gun shows — an arena believed to frequently play host to illegal sales — would not be difficult, Masto said.
“The bill closes off a significant loophole that felons and other dangerous individuals use to avoid background checks and obtain guns — particularly at gun shows,” Masto said.
Part of the reason she now supports the measure is that a portion of a pending amendment creates an advisory commission that would monitor the effect of the law, she said.
“We need to start somewhere,” Masto said. “This is a great opportunity to see other things we need to do.”
The bill also revises state laws relating to mentally ill people and firearms. It would 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.