Newspaper column: Gun background check law is a futile gesture

The frequency of gun violence calls for a senseless and futile gesture and Nevada Democratic lawmakers are just the ones to do it.

In a matter of days this past week the Nevada Legislature passed Senate Bill 143, which requires background checks to be conducted prior to the sale or transfer of any firearm by a private individual to anyone other than an immediate family member. It passed both the state Senate and Assembly without a single Republican vote. Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed the bill shortly after the Assembly passed it Friday.

The bill is an effort to fix the fundamental flaw that made a similar background check requirement narrowly approved by voters in 2016 unenforceable. The backers of the ballot initiative, Question 1, tried to avoid having a fiscal note saying how much the background checks would cost Nevada taxpayers by requiring the checks to be run through an FBI database and not the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History, which handles all background checks for federally licensed gun dealers in the states. The FBI refused to do the checks and the attorney general declared the law unenforceable and a district court judge agreed.

SB143 requires the state criminal history repository to be used.

Question 1 passed with only 50.45 percent of the voters approving it, failing in every county except Clark. Ninety percent of Eureka County voters rejected it, as did 82 percent in Elko and White Pine, 74 percent in Nye, 88 percent in Lincoln, 76 percent in Mineral and 89 percent in Esmeralda, for example.

In pressing for passage of the bill Friday an assembly member mentioned the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school a year earlier and read the names of those killed.

Another mentioned the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting that left 58 dead at a Las Vegas country music festival as being a reason to require background checks on private firearms sales.

The New York Times a year ago reported that the guns used in both of these shootings, as well as 17 others in recent years, were all obtained legally and the shooters all passed background checks, though a couple probably should not have. So this law would have done nothing to prevent any of those shootings.

Additionally, the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California Davis partnered with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to study the impact of a similar California background check law passed in 1991. The study found that over the next decade there was no impact whatsoever on firearm homicide and suicide rates.

UC Davis and Johns Hopkins earlier looked at two states that repealed similar background check laws in 1998 and found that over the next decade there was no impact on the rate of firearm deaths.

While SB143 would have no impact whatsoever on gun violence, it would impose considerable costs and time to be spent for those law-abiding Nevadans who try to comply with the rather vague law. Running afoul of the law once is a gross misdemeanor and more than once is a felony.

The law requires both private gun seller and buyer to appear together with the firearm at a licensed gun dealer. Since such dealers are usually open during regular business hours, presumably both buyer and seller would have to take time off from work to do so. The law also says the dealer may charge a reasonable fee, though reasonable is not defined.

One dealer testified this past week that currently background checks can tie up employees for a half hour and sometimes up to two hours. “That’s money out of my pocket,” she said.

How many dealers will be willing to actually perform such background checks, if any, and at what “reasonable” fee?

The law does not go into effect until Jan. 2, 2020. What was the rush? Couldn’t some of these unknowns have been addressed before ramming the bill through merely to satisfy Democrats’ liberal base with a feel good measure that will accomplish nothing?

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Editorial: Most sheriffs and the governor oppose gun background check initiative

Three out of four Nevada county sheriffs agree, Question 1 on the November ballot, the Nevada Background Checks for Gun Purchases Initiative, should be voted down, because it will do nothing to prevent gun violence, will be too costly and merely put honest people in jeopardy of running afoul of a nitpicking law.

The National Rifle Association reports opposition to Question 1 has been announced by Sheriff Ken Furlong (Carson City), Sheriff Ben Trotter (Churchill County), Sheriff Ron Pierini (Douglas County), Sheriff Jim Pitts (Elko County), Sheriff Keith Logan (Eureka County), Sheriff Ron Unger (Lander County), Sheriff Kerry Lee (Lincoln County), Sheriff Al McNeil (Lyon County), Sheriff Sharon Wehrly (Nye County), Sheriff Gerald Antinoro (Storey County), Sheriff Chuck Allen (Washoe County) and Sheriff Mike Allen (Humboldt County).

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo has chosen to remain neutral and others are silent on the matter.

Most recently, Gov. Brian Sandoval has added his voice to the opposition. “The governor does not support Question 1. He has concerns that this measure would dilute the legitimate rights of law-abiding Nevadans and that it does not actually address the complex issue of keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals,” said Mari St. Martin, a spokeswoman for the governor.

St. Martin has noted that existing law already prohibits a person from selling or giving a firearm or ammunition to another person if he or she has actual knowledge that the other person is under indictment for or has been convicted of a felony, is a fugitive from justice, has been found mentally ill or is in the country illegally.

Question 1 would require “universal” background checks and require law enforcement to scrutinize virtually every gun sale or transfer. It is being pushed by Nevadans for Background Checks, which is funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety. It would require most gun transfers to be conducted through a federally licensed firearms dealer.

A summary of the measure reads in part: “This initiative requires that an unlicensed person who wishes to sell or transfer a firearm to another person conduct the transfer through a licensed gun dealer who runs a background check on the potential buyer or transferee. A licensed dealer may charge a reasonable fee for this service.”

Elko County Sheriff Jim Pitts has been quoted as saying, “This is for one thing a law that we can’t enforce. There’s no way of enforcing this. Only the citizens who follow the law are going to be the ones who follow it, and the ones that are the criminals aren’t going to follow it anyway. How are we going to follow it up?”

Washoe County Sheriff Chuck Allen said Question 1 infringes upon the Second Amendment and “will do absolutely nothing to stop criminals while criminalizing the commonplace activities of many Nevada gun owners.”

Carson City Sheriff Kenny Furlong has said, “Any bill that does not address mental health, which I believe to be the core cause of the violence we’ve had across the country, does not meet my expectations.”

Sheriff Sharon Wehrly in Nye County has said, “It merely places more restrictions on good people, will make it more difficult, and incur unnecessary costs for law-abiding citizens to manage their personal property.”

A recent survey conducted by Las Vegas television station KTNV in conjunction with Rasmussen Reports found that 65 percent of those polled support the background checks initiative and only 28 percent opposed it with 7 percent undecided.

Perhaps the majority of sheriffs and the governor can help persuade the voters that one more unenforceable law on the books will just add to the regulatory burden and cost and do nothing to increase safety.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.