CARSON CITY – When Las Vegas Democratic state Sen. Justin Jones‘s Senate Bill 221 came up on the Senate floor May 22, Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, offered an amendment.
Roberson’s approach would have left one part of Jones’s bill intact — a requirement for courts to immediately report when someone has been adjudicated mentally incompetent to the state’s criminal-history database of people prohibited from owning guns. But it would have gutted the bill’s other major component: A requirement that all gun transfers be accompanied by a background check. Instead, Roberson sought an interim study on the subject.
His motion failed. But on Tuesday — the same day Jones’s bill was heard in a contentious hearing of the Assembly Judiciary Committee — Roberson apparently decided that study was no longer required. He introduced a bill that would require the mental health reporting, but leave undisturbed current law on background checks. (They’re voluntary right now.)
Roberson’s Senate Bill 520 would waive the fee for background checks. It also purports to provide civil and criminal liability for people who choose to do background checks, although the language is somewhat confusing. Roberson said in a brief interview that Jones’s bill would not stop gun transfers to criminals, and would place an undue burden on law-abiding citizens.
(Jones replied, however, that gun background checks have stopped 2 million people from legally buying weapons since they were instituted nationwide. But only gun sales through licensed dealers are covered; private-party sales do not require background checks, a loophole Jones seeks to close.)
Roberson’s move was announced by a news release at 1 p.m.
Roberson introduces legislation to improve public safety by keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill
Carson City, NV – Senate Republican leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, today introduced legislation to improve public safety in Nevada by keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.
Senate Bill 520 strengthens the reporting requirements concerning a person’s mental health and criminal history for certain purposes relating to the purchase or possession of a firearm.
“This is essential legislation that prohibits criminals and individuals suffering from mental illness from purchasing a firearm. We must enact policies that keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves or society,” stated Roberson.
“I am proud to be a sponsor of this common sense public safety policy,” stated Senator Barbara Cegavske. “This legislation safeguards public safety while guaranteeing Nevadans’ constitutional rights.”
“This bill provides enhanced measures to prevent disqualified individuals from possessing firearms while not authorizing the state to gather information about private gun purchases by law-abiding Nevadans who have already passed a background check, which I applaud and support,” cited Senator Mark Hutchison.
SB 520 also provides immunity from liability to private party sellers who voluntarily perform background checks, and waives the Central Repository fee to encourage utilization of the Repository for private party transactions.
Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey affirmed his support for the bill, stating “This legislation will also incentivize private parties to conduct background checks when transferring a firearm by providing immunity from civil and criminal liability when a background check is conducted prior to the transfer.”
Additionally, the bill incorporates the mental health and criminal reporting requirements approved by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee’s amendments to Senate Bill 221 that outlines a “duty to notify” on behalf of mental health professionals when there’s a legitimate threat of violence against another person. It also shortens the timeline for submitting information into the National Instant Criminal Background Check system.
“These reporting requirements are important,” Roberson said. “Because SB 221 places additional burdens on the rights of law-abiding citizens, SB221 is not likely to become law. As such, I’ve decided to include those reporting requirements in SB 520.”
“SB221 has received a lot of criticism from the law enforcement community,” stated Senator James Settelmeyer. “This legislation takes into consideration the concerns of law enforcement while working to address critical public safety issues.”
Finally, SB 520 creates a prohibition under state law on straw purchases and/or transfers in the State of Nevada. A straw purchase is any purchase wherein an agent agrees to acquire a firearm for someone who is prohibited from purchasing or possessing the firearm legally for him or herself, and the agent transfers the firearm to that person after purchasing them.
“We are working to restructure Nevada’s law to ensure criminals and individuals suffering from mental illness and who pose a threat to themselves or others are restricted from purchasing firearms,” said Assistant Senate Minority Leader Ben Kieckhefer. “This legislation supports that objective while providing important protections for citizens who engage in private party firearm transactions.”
Senator Greg Brower also voiced his support for the bill. “As a former prosecutor, I can tell you that this bill addresses two of the most critical issues that currently undermine public safety: inadequate coordination between the mental health system and law enforcement, and the problem of straw purchases. This bill represents a very positive step in the right direction”
SB 520 has bipartisan support with 23 co-sponsors, as well as the support of Governor [Brian] Sandoval and law enforcement.
(Actually, the bill had one original Democratic co-sponsor, state Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, but his name was removed from the bill later in the day.)
Roberson’s announcement was followed quickly by a statement from Sandoval supporting the idea:
“As a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, I believe we must protect law abiding citizens’ right to bear arms. However, I also believe that individuals with mental illness who have been determined to be a danger to themselves or the community should not have access to guns. It is critically important that we take steps to improve how Nevada reports these individuals. I want to commend Senator Roberson for his attention to this important issue and his efforts to strengthen existing law.”
(Interestingly, Sandoval did not commend Jones for his efforts to improve mental-health reporting. But the question arises: What good is improving mental-health reporting if private-party gun sales are never checked against the database? Even a perfect reporting system is useless if nobody is asking about some gun sales.)
Jones, for his part, raised that point as well:
“Republicans are trying to have it both ways by telling Nevadans they are doing something about gun violence while proposing a bill that will do nothing to protect our children from gun violence. While my bill will keep deadly weapons out of the hands of criminals and people with severe mental illnesses who are a threat to themselves and others, Nevada Republicans are following the lead of Washington Republicans in opposing any common sense proposals that will actually reduce gun violence. I urge my Republican colleagues to stop trying to obstruct universal background checks and work with me to pass these common sense reforms that 86 percent of Nevadans support.”
And, of course, Nevada’s Democratic Party weighed in to defend Jones’s bill.
Las Vegas, NV – Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange released the following statement in response to Governor Brian Sandoval’s announcement he would veto Senate Bill 221, Sen. Justin Jones’ legislation to implement universal background checks for firearm purchases, which will help keep deadly weapons out of the hands of criminals and those with severe mental illnesses:
“After the tragedies of Sandy Hook, Tucson and the Carson City IHOP shooting, the American people overwhelmingly spoke up and demanded action. Because Washington politicians like Dean Heller and Joe Heck helped Congressional Republicans block universal background checks in Congress, Nevada Senate Democrats took action to overcome Republican obstruction and passed a bill to implement background checks in Nevada.
“Unfortunately, Governor Sandoval joined [U.S. Sen.] Dean Heller, [U.S. Rep.] Joe Heck, and Michael Roberson in opposing universal background checks — a common sense proposal that would make our streets safer by keeping deadly weapons out of the hand of criminals and the mentally ill. The governor’s threat to veto this bill makes clear that to Brian Sandoval partisan politics is a higher priority than protecting Nevadans from gun violence.”
It must be said that no law would completely prevent gun violence, mass shootings or criminal acquisition of firearms. At best, background checks would make it harder for criminals to get guns. But isn’t that a worthwhile goal?
The dilemma of these bills is this: Jones’s bill clearly has the support of majority Democrats. It’s already passed the Senate and will undoubtedly pass the Assembly, perhaps with minor changes. But Sandoval will certainly veto it, and Jones doesn’t have the two-thirds necessary to override that veto. Roberson’s bill, by contrast, lacks the support to pass either house of the Legislature, but Sandoval would sign it if did.
In the end, it’s likely that neither bill will ever become law.