LAS VEGAS—A gun buyer screening initiative that Nevada voters approved nearly two years ago was fatally flawed and can’t be enforced, a state court judge has ruled.
Proponents should have known the measure “would be contingent upon the FBI’s approval” for the federal agency to take over criminal background checks during private sales of firearms, Clark County District Court Judge Joe Hardy Jr. said.
The FBI rejected Gov. Brian Sandoval’s requests to implement the law, Hardy said in his Monday ruling. “There is no language in the act itself mandating that the governor undertake any action to implement or enforce the act,” Hardy said.
It was not immediately clear if the plaintiffs would appeal Hardy’s ruling to the state Supreme Court. Attorney Mark Ferrario, who argued the case before Hardy, did not immediately respond to messages.
Sandoval and state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, both Republicans, opposed the initiative in 2016. It nevertheless passed statewide by a narrow 1 percent margin.
Backers said it would close what they call a legal loophole that lets gun buyers skip background screenings when purchasing from another person or online.
Hardy, who was appointed by Sandoval to the state court bench in 2015, made it clear during court hearings that he was uncomfortable being asked to decide what the governor should do to enact a law that, according to the attorney general, was unenforceable.
State attorneys argued the law impossibly required the governor to have the FBI expend federal resources to enforce a state law.
A Sandoval spokeswoman said Tuesday the ruling spoke for itself.
Laxalt issued a statement hailing what he called Hardy’s “careful decision” and accusing backers of the measure of using its “brokenness” to attack him politically.
The lawsuit aiming to enforce the initiative was filed just days after 58 people were killed Oct. 1 in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history on the Las Vegas Strip.
It quickly became a political issue in Laxalt’s bid to replace the term-limited Sandoval as governor.
Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, now the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, spoke often in the weeks after the Las Vegas shooting of enacting the background check law and banning ban assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Proponents of the Nevada initiative conceded it would not have prevented the Las Vegas gunman from legally obtaining the cache of assault-style weapons he used.
But they said it could help keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them by increasing the number of buyers required to undergo background checks.
Nevada is one of 12 states that processes criminal background checks for gun sales itself, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Sandoval maintained the state checks are more thorough than federal checks because they include buyer mental health and criminal records relating to domestic violence, misdemeanor crimes, arrest reports and restraining orders.