Michael R. Griffin: Less rhetoric, more facts needed in debate on Question 1
As a judge it was my job to look at the facts, consider the evidence and come to a decision that followed the rule of law. For me, it has never been about political rhetoric and the next election, the politicians have that covered. Unfortunately, in the recent column in the Nevada Appeal authored by Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, political rhetoric overshadowed the facts and evidence when it comes to Question 1, also known as the Background Check Initiative. I write to provide some factual support for Question 1 as you decide how to vote this fall.
Currently, under Nevada law only licensed gun dealers are required to conduct criminal background checks on gun sales. The thousands of private sales conducted online and at gun shows each year without a background check account for about 40 percent of the total gun sale market. Question 1 would close that loophole in the law related to private sales and require criminal background checks on all gun sales with reasonable exceptions for family, hunting and self-defense.
Contrary to the assertions by Assemblyman Wheeler and others, Question 1 does not criminalize the behavior of law-abiding gun owners. As a military veteran and gun owner myself, I value our Second Amendment rights, as do all Nevadans. Question 1 does not infringe on those rights. Family-to-family transfers don’t require a background check under Question 1. Neither does sharing weapons while hunting or shooting. And under Question 1, a military service man or woman being deployed can absolutely store weapons with a family member without a background check.
It is also incorrect to assert that passing Question 1 will make Nevada gun laws stricter than California gun laws. It will not. For example, Nevada has no waiting period or limits on guns and ammunition that can be purchased like exist in California. In California, anyone buying or borrowing a gun needs to possess a firearm safety certificate, even a family member; Nevada has no such requirement.
A key fact omitted by Assemblyman Wheeler’s column is that background checks work.
In 28 years as a District Court Judge in Carson City, time and again I saw felons possessing firearms illegally. I heard dozens of cases where a person convicted of domestic violence was arrested while possessing a firearm. He had no lawful right to possess the gun, yet he obtained that firearm through a private party gun deal. Many of these cases involved violent offenses that left victims injured or even dead.
Since the federal government has required background checks for gun sales through licensed gun dealers, 2.4 million felons have been blocked from buying a firearm. These are dangerous people that under our existing laws should not possess guns, and yet those opposed to Question 1 would have them continue to buy guns in private sales, no background check required.
As gun owner, I know that with rights come responsibilities to do what we can to make it harder for felons and domestic abusers to get guns. They have no right to own one.
Closing the loophole and requiring criminal background checks on all gun sales is common sense and does not offend any Constitutional right. As with all political issues, reasonable persons may disagree for reasonable reasons. But stripping the facts from the issue of criminal background checks does a disservice to those Nevadans looking to educate themselves in the coming election. The key to protecting our democracy is having informed citizens. I support Question 1 because felons and domestic abusers have lost their right to own firearms, and Question 1 requires all gun dealers to make sure they aren’t selling guns to these people.
Michael R. Griffin is a retired First Judicial District Court judge.