Nevada Senate panel passes gun background checks bill

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak prepares to testify during a hearing for Senate Bill 143 at the Nevada Legislature Building in Carson City on Tuesday.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak prepares to testify during a hearing for Senate Bill 143 at the Nevada Legislature Building in Carson City on Tuesday.

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After more than seven hours of debate and testimony by more than 100 people, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday voted to do pass the bill designed to cure the flaw that prevented implementation of the voter-approved background checks law.

The vote was on a party line with Democrats Nicole Cannizzaro, Dallas Harris, James Ohrenschall and Marilyn Dondero Loop in favor and Republicans Scott Hammond, Ira Hansen and Keith Pickard voting no.

More than 200 attended the day-long hearing, which was a joint session with the Assembly Judiciary Committee, and numerous witnesses as well as lawmakers thanked Cannizzaro for her treatment of all witnesses.

The bill goes to the Senate floor Wednesday and, if treated as an emergency measure, can be voted out and sent to the Assembly where it could be voted out of committee immediately and sent to the floor.

The Republican members objected, pointing out that normally lawmakers get legislation well before committee hearings and that they have time to think it over before committee action.

“Normally we have days if not weeks to look at this,” said Pickard.

He called for time to review the bill which he said has numerous inconsistencies and needs a more thorough vetting before action. Hammond said he didn’t get the bill’s actual language until Monday’s floor session and has had no opportunity to submit amendments.

Cannizzaro told him no amendments were considered and that the vote is on the bill as written.

The list of witnesses included Gov. Steve Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson as well as prime sponsor of SB143 Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas who all supported the bill.

“I’m here because I believe that when the citizens of our state make a decision at the ballot box, government should do all it can to carry out that decision,” Sisolak told a joint hearing of the Senate and Assembly judiciary committees.

He said he testified that he supports common sense background checks on firearm sales.

“We can all agree that criminals and the severely mentally ill should not have access to firearms,” he said adding that all can also agree no single law will prevent all gun violence.

He described SB143 as a measure that will make it more difficult for those with a criminal background or mental illness to buy a gun and said he would be proud to sign it into law.

Ford described the bill as a critical public safety measure that will save lives.

He said he is most concerned about the growing online gun market.

Ford said states with background checks have fewer gun suicides, fewer domestic battery murders and fewer police officers killed by guns.

Atkinson said SB143 is “substantially identical” to the voter-approved initiative. He said the difference is that, instead of mandating private gun sellers go to the FBI for a background check on the buyer it turns that task over to the state Department of Public Safety.

There was emotional testimony including from Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, D-Las Vegas, who was at the Harvest Festival on Oct. 1, 2017 and with her fiancé had to run for her life.

Numerous gun rights advocates, however, testified the bill is the start of a slippery slope that will end with gun registration and confiscation.

And many echoed the statement of licensed firearms dealer Steve Johnston who said the bill will do nothing. He said he has processed hundreds of firearm sales and background checks over the years and that only three were ever denied permission to buy a firearm.

“That’s because prohibited persons don’t come to licensed firearms dealers,” he said.

Dan Reid of the National Rifle Association also said the law would be unenforceable because those who don’t comply with the law are criminals.

He was joined by Assemblyman Tom Roberts, R-Las Vegas, who has 34 years in law enforcement and questioned how the officer on the street would enforce the law if passed.

Gerald Antinoro, Storey County sheriff, said the major mass shootings in this country were all committed by people who were able to pass background checks including the Oct. 1 massacre in Las Vegas. He said that means this bill wouldn’t have prevented any of those killings.

A number of witnesses also raised the issue of how many of these crimes — not just mass shootings but domestic violence, suicides and other gun deaths are the result of mental illness. They repeatedly pointed out the bill does nothing to deal with the dangerously mentally ill. But at least one witness pointed out that mental health information is confidential by federal law.

Former Assemblywoman Jill Dickman said the bill would be an excessive burden on firearms dealers who would have to collect sales taxes on private sales.

But Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes told the joint committee the sales tax doesn’t apply to occasional private sales unless the seller is selling more than two guns a year. She said there wouldn’t be taxes on fees collected by the licensed dealer either.

The bill received backing and support from casino corporations in the state including Caesar’s as well as Clark County DA Steve Wolfson and the AFL-CIO. Also supporting the measure was Rick McCann of the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers.

Several issues were raised by some calling for amendments including allowing the transfers of weapons not only among immediate family members but in-laws. Other suggestions called for more clarity on letting fellow gun owners loan their weapons to each other while hunting and spelling out exactly what an illegal transfer of a weapon is and what possession if a weapon is. Others said the ability of Concealed Carry permit holders to skip background checks while their CCW permit is in effect since they have been thoroughly vetted and, if arrested, would immediately lose that permit.

Repeatedly, opponents charged that the bill just isn’t clearly written so that people can understand what is legal and what isn’t so it will unintentionally criminalize honest gun owners.


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