“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Second Amendment
Americans are proud of our Bill of Rights. However, with over 300 million of us, there are varying interpretations of these rights. People who believe that criminals, terrorists and unhinged people shouldn’t have guns tend to focus on the first part of the Second Amendment. We believe that there should be some regulations on who can own and use a gun. People who think that anyone should be able to get a gun anywhere, at any time, focus on the second part of the amendment — no infringements.
Those who are against universal background checks for gun purchases say that criminals won’t follow the law anyway, so these checks are pointless, but this is true of any law. Using that reasoning, we should just cancel all the laws against murder, theft, rape, assault, etc., since “good guys” won’t do those things, and “bad guys” won’t follow the law. But if someone thinks that such laws are necessary to help keep society safe, they should also understand that laws about gun ownership are important.
Right now, anyone can walk into a Nevada gun show and buy a gun from an unlicensed seller or a private party with no background check. This means convicted felons, domestic abusers, and other “bad guys” can buy guns in Nevada with no hindrances; some have done so. In 2013, where background checks were done in Nevada, 1,904 gun sales were stopped, including 501 to convicted felons. Perhaps the “gun in every hand” folks think these felons should have been able to buy a gun; I disagree.
In March, a voter petition titled the Nevada Background Checks for Gun Purchases Initiative went before the Nevada state legislature. This petition closes some major loopholes in laws about Nevada gun sales. Basically, it requires any unlicensed gun seller, such as those at gun shows, to do background checks on purchasers through a licensed gun dealer.
On March 9, this petition was passed out of committee with no recommendation. The Republican leaders in the Assembly decided not to hold a vote before the March 13 deadline. This means the initiative will be on the 2016 ballot and be voted on by Nevadans.
This law has wide popular support. Over 86 percent of Nevada residents, including 74 percent of NRA members, support requiring criminal background checks for all gun purchases. For those who think the law will impose undue regulations, it exempts transfers between immediate family members.
Some gun owners like to say that law-abiding citizens should not be subject to any rules for gun ownership. The problem is, “law-abiding” can become “law-breaking” awfully fast. In the Reno Gazette-Journal on Nov. 12, 2014, someone commented, “This stupid law will do nothing ... it will be unenforceable ... I will not comply with this stupid law, I will sell and trade firearms with my neighbors and friends including those in California, I will thumb my nose at this law....” Would the NRA consider this person a “responsible” gun owner? Is it okay for us to ignore any law we don’t happen to like? Is that really a society in which we want to live?
The recent shooting in Waco, Texas, where nine motorcycle gang members were killed and several wounded, made me wonder about those “law-abiding” gun owners. I have no idea how or where those people got their guns, but I know Texas has a lot of gun owners who proudly carry their weapons into restaurants and other public places, bragging about their Second Amendment rights.
As far as I can tell, these motorcycle gang members could have openly carried their guns into the restaurant, claiming they were responsible gun owners. They were, right up until they started shooting and putting a lot of innocent customers in danger. Background checks may or may not have stopped this massacre, but they might have saved a few.
The vast majority of Americans, including most gun owners, realize we need to keep guns out of the hands of certain people. Those who think they will be heroic by breaking this law, if it passes, are just reinforcing the idea that too many gun owners are immature and irresponsible. However you interpret the Second Amendment, I seriously doubt the authors had those people in mind when they wrote it. Rights also confer responsibilities. Background checks make everyone safer.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at email@example.com.