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?
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/