It might be hard to remember with this year’s interesting presidential race there will be anything else on the ballot in November. But there will be more for voters to decide on, including the Nevada Background Check Initiative to close loopholes that currently allow criminals and other dangerous people to buy firearms without a background check.
There’s strong support for the Background Check Initiative. Nevadans for Background Checks gathered more than 250,000 signatures from Nevada voters to get the initiative on the ballot — almost double the requirement. A recent poll by Mayors Against Illegal Guns also shows strong support: 86 percent of Nevada residents — including 74 percent of NRA members and 55 percent of licensed gun dealers — support requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales.
And just last month the initiative was endorsed by Nevada’s largest police association, the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers (NAPSO).
But in talking to friends about the initiative and reading some recent letters to the editor in this paper, I’ve discovered there are some fears about the initiative.
What will the initiative actually do? It’s pretty simple.
Right now, criminals and other potentially dangerous people such as convicted domestic abusers and the severely mentally ill can avoid background checks by buying firearms from unlicensed firearms sellers on the Internet or at gun shows. These unlicensed sellers are not legally required to run background checks on the buyers before selling them the firearms. Because of this loophole, millions of guns are sold each year without background checks.
The Background Check Initiative will close this loophole in Nevada. Under the Background Check Initiative, unlicensed sellers will meet their buyers at a licensed gun dealer. If the gun dealer agrees to help process the sale, the dealer conducts a background check on the potential buyer and complies with state and federal law as though transferring the gun from the dealer’s own inventory.
More than 97 percent of Nevadans live within 10 miles of a licensed gun dealer, so this would be easy and convenient. Moreover, 90 percent of checks are completed in 90 seconds or less.
So, what’s the problem? Here are a few concerns I’ve heard.
A friend told me her husband would like to give some of his dad’s guns that have been in the family for generations to his son, and she’s concerned he would not be able to do it if the initiative passes.
She doesn’t need to worry. There’s a specific exemption for transfers between family members. There also are exemptions for transfers by law enforcement agencies; transfers of antique firearms, transfers to executors of estates, and temporary transfers for self-defense, target shooting, and hunting.
Another friend asked me, “What’s the definition of mental illness? What about if I’ve visited a psychiatrist for depression? Does that mean I can’t buy a firearm?”
No. Under law, only people who have been adjudicated by courts as a danger to themselves or to someone else can be refused to be allowed to purchase firearms. Those severe cases are handled in the courts.
Here’s a comment from Kelly Jones of Carson City in a recent letter to the editor of the Nevada Appeal: “What we do not need are people losing their rights over a push-down, a slap, or a too-hard poke in the chest with a finger.”
Existing Nevada law already prohibits a person with a misdemeanor or felony conviction of domestic violence from possessing a firearm. The Background Check Initiative would simply close the loophole that allows convicted domestic abusers and other criminals to purchase firearms without a background check.
NAPSO Executive Director Richard McCann said in a recent interview on KUNR his “group of 1,500 law enforcement officers is not opposed to gun rights. Rather, it’s to ensure weapons don’t get into the wrong hands, like those of felons or domestic abusers.”
“This is not a political issue,” says McCann, “This is a public safety issue.”
And it’s just common sense.
Anne Macquarie blogs about clean energy and climate change in Nevada at nevadanscleanenergy.org.