With the ongoing debate over gun violence (and what to do about it), I figured it would serve us all to remember what’s currently the law. So here’s a quick summary of where things truly stand at the federal and state levels. You may be surprised by what you’ll find below.
At the federal level, a progression into regression?
Under federal law, a person must be at least 21 years of age to purchase a handgun for a federally licensed dealer. But for long guns, even assault weapons like the AR-15 that’s commonly used in mass shootings, the age requirement drops to 18. When Congress first passed the Gun Control Act of 1968, handguns were seen as more dangerous and long guns were commonly assumed to be hunting rifles. But even now that assault weapons like the AR-15 are available, the age discrepancy remains.
But in the 1990s, lawmakers tried to solve this problem in a different way. The federal assault weapons ban was passed in 1994 to take such highly lethal, military-grade weapons out of the civilian market entirely. Yet as gun manufacturers began to manufacture new versions of these weapons to circumvent the law, Congress never came around to update the law… And instead allowed the ban to expire in 2004.
It’s a somewhat similar story for background checks, which was also addressed at the federal level when Congress passed the Brady Bill in 1993. The intent of the Brady Bill was to subject gun purchases to background checks to ensure federally licensed dealers were not selling firearms to felons, fugitives, domestic abusers, and people struggling with severe mental illness. But with the growth of traveling gun shows and the advent of e-commerce, the gun lobby once again found ways to circumvent federal law. Though Congress just recently passed the “Fix NICS” bill to improve reporting to the national background checks system, gun buyers can still evade the system entirely by going to a gun show, or by simply going online.
At the state level, are we simply going nowhere?
Like many other states in the U.S., Nevada’s gun laws don’t add many restrictions above what’s already federal law. Military-grade assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and accessories like bump stocks and silencers are currently available in the civilian gun market. Gun owners must obtain a permit for concealed carry, but not for open carry, and no permit is needed to buy a gun. Nevada also has a version of “Stand Your Ground” (also known as “The Castle Doctrine”) that allows the use of deadly force when the assailant feels threatened.
Even though the state has set up its own background checks system, gun buyers here can go to gun shows or the internet to bypass it entirely. In 2016, Nevada voters approved Question 1 to close these background checks loopholes. However Governor Brian Sandoval (R) and Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) have since refused to enforce it, as Laxalt has claimed that it’s unenforceable (a claim that gun violence prevention advocates vociferously dispute). As a result, these background checks loopholes remain very open here in Nevada.
Now you know where things stand, so you can decide where you stand.
With gun violence becoming a key issue this election cycle, it’s important for us to remember what’s actually in current laws. And with the rhetoric surrounding this issue always burning so hot, it’s critical that we remember the actual facts here.
I hope this helps. I also hope we all remember that when discussing this and other issues, it’s best for us to stick to just the facts.