With show of urgency on gun safety, Legislature off to encouraging start


Scott Sonner / AP

In this June 5, 2017, photo, people walk in front of the Nevada Legislature building in Carson City.

Thanks to a group of Nevada lawmakers who are prioritizing the will of state voters over party ideology and special interests, the years-long wait for extended background checks on firearm sales may soon be over.

On Tuesday, the Nevada Legislature is expected to hold a joint session of the state Senate and Assembly judiciary committees on a workaround bill that would subject all gun sales in Nevada to checks. Currently, vetting is required only for purchases involving licensed firearms dealers.

The proposal is being described as a fix for the ballot measure that was approved by voters in 2016 but was never implemented due to — take your pick — a technical complication or resistance from National Rifle Association-supported state leaders to carry it out.

The new bill, which was being finalized at the time of this writing, reportedly is a combination of the 2016 measure and a bill that was approved by the Legislature in 2013 but was vetoed by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval.

In both of those cases, and in the new bill, the purpose is to close the so-called “gun show loophole” that allowed buyers to avoid background checks by purchasing weapons from nonlicensed sellers at gun shows, through internet connections or through other means.

The new bill reportedly features two key elements aimed at ironing out bugs from the other measures:

• It would make the Nevada Department of Safety responsible for conducting the expanded checks. The 2016 measure required the checks to be conducted by the FBI, but it went haywire when federal officials declined to take responsibility for the checks. Sandoval and former Attorney General Adam Laxalt essentially washed their hands of the matter, doing so little to bring about implementation that they were sued in an effort to force them to do their duties. They prevailed in the suit, but if they’d worked as hard toward implementation as they did in fighting in court, they may have been able to spur progress on background checks.

At any rate, the new bill takes the feds out of the picture. DPS, which already conducts the checks involving sales from licensed sellers, will take on the new vetting.

• It includes exemptions that were written into the 2016 measure, such as sales between family members and temporary transfers of firearms. Sandoval cited the lack of such exemptions in vetoing the 2013 bill.

The devil is in the details on legislation like this, so it remains to be seen whether the bill contains any flaws. But if it’s as watertight as is being described, it should have no problem cruising through the legislative process.

Numerous candidates for legislative seats made campaign promises to break through the stand-still on the issue, as did Gov. Steve Sisolak and Attorney General Aaron Ford.

But regardless of what happens Tuesday, Nevadans can take pride in lawmakers’ sense of urgency on the issue.

The aftermath of the 2016 vote is a wrong that desperately needs to be righted.

Universal background checks are good policy, aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of convicted felons, the mentally ill, domestic abusers and others who shouldn’t have them. Nevada voters recognized as much, and it was shameful that previous state leaders let them down by failing to work diligently toward implementing the ballot measure.

In taking up the matter just two weeks into the session and giving it a joint hearing, the Legislature is showing that it’s serious about getting this reasonable and responsible policy on the books and in play.

Bravo, lawmakers. And go, go, go. The sooner Nevada can get moving on the new checks, the safer we’ll be.