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Nevada Today

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As Background Checks Bill Becomes New Gun Safety Law, Let’s Remember Why It’s Here in the First Place

This week SB 143 raced towards Governor Steve Sisolak’s (D) desk at lightning speed, and Sisolak just ended the week by signing it into law. While there’s been plenty of hand-wringing over the process and bountiful mischaracterization of the policy, there hasn’t been enough discussion of what’s actually in the bill and why it’s needed. So let’s review what SB 143 is actually about, and how the actual policy of expanding background checks may affect the gun trade and the state of our communities’ safety.

1:10 PM UPDATE: Assembly passed background checks bill, followed by Sisolak’s signature

The Assembly just voted 28-13 to pass SB 143. Skip Daly (D-Sparks) joined all Republicans to vote against, while all other Democrats voted for and John Hambrick (R-Summerlin South) was absent. Since the Assembly did not amend the original Senate version, it quickly headed to Governor Steve Sisolak‘s (D) desk.

Sisolak made gun violence prevention a key theme in his campaign last year, and he just delivered on his promise by signing SB 143 into law less than an hour after the Assembly’s floor vote. Barring a successful legal challenge, it officially takes effect January 2, 2020.

First off, let’s dispel with this fiction that expanding background checks means “grabbing guns”.
Photo by “docmonstereyes”, made available by Wikimedia, and licensed under Creative Commons

During Tuesday’s SB 143 joint committee hearing, various Republicans conflated the actual bill they were considering with something else. That pattern continued with Wednesday’s Senate floor vote, as Republicans spoke of everything from “rural way of life” and “mental health” to Israeli national security policies and hypothetical criminal trials.

As we discussed on Tuesday, the actual bill being considered in the Legislature happens to be among the lowest of low-hanging fruit when it comes to gun violence prevention policies. It’s nowhere near the gun registry and assault weapons ban that Australia enacted after the 1996 Port Arthur mass shooting, and it’s not even close to the kind of gun control Israel has. And for that matter, it’s not on par with the gun laws of other developed nations, nations that happen to have strong gun control, better funded social safety nets with access to mental health care, and rural communities where people go on with their traditional ways of life.

So then, what is SB 143? Simply put, it’s a bill to close existing background checks loopholes that allow people with felony convictions, domestic violence protective orders, severe mental health struggles, and/or other disqualifications that legally prohibit them from possessing firearms to obtain such firearms at gun shows or online (via outlets like Armslist). Existing state and federal laws already require such background checks for gun sales handled by federally licensed dealers, and this bill seeks to extend the same process to the kinds of sales and transfers that weren’t envisioned by the 1994 Brady Bill that established the current national background checks system.

If background checks don’t fix everything, why do anything?
Photo by Andrew Davey

While federal legislation to align the nation’s gun laws more with Australia and Israel could be more effective in curbing gun violence than state and local piecemeal approaches, the harsh reality is that’s not happening any time soon. While the U.S. House is currently moving a background checks bill that’s fairly close to what’s in SB 143, it’s unlikely President Donald Trump and U.S. Senate Republican leaders will support this legislation, let alone anything stronger. This means 2021 is probably the soonest we’ll see any realistic chance of federal gun laws changing, depending on who wins the Presidential election and control of the U.S. Senate next year. And even then, federal action may still be limited depending on how the U.S. Supreme Court decides to interpret the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

In the meantime, domestic violence offenders continue seeking loopholes to exploit. So do other offenders who seek weapons to perpetrate violent acts. And so do people who are so desperate to escape their problems that they think shooting a gun is the only way out.

As we’ve been finding all this week, background checks can’t stop all gun violence. They may, however, play a key role in preventing potent weapons from falling into the wrong hands. That leads to the question at the heart of this expansive debate over one modest bill: When policymakers have the chance to change policy and save people’s lives, shall they proceed? The Governor and most legislators are primed to answer this question in the affirmative, and the answer involves one of the simplest and most feasible options available to save people’s lives.

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