A gun control measure even a gun lover can love


As a certified gun lover, I can understand the pressure placed on Nevada’s elected officials when it comes to writing legislation aimed at preventing violence.

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, for example, has been bombarded from both sides, with gun-rights groups urging him to filibuster a new bill on background checks, while ads fielded by Mayors Against Illegal Guns urged him to vote against a filibuster.

Heller and I mostly agree on gun rights (or so I presume; I sent him some detailed questions once but his staff never replied.) But from his public statements, Heller is a pro-Second Amendment guy who stands by his principles.

I’d have voted as Heller did, to end debate and have an up-or-down vote on the bill. And gun-rights advocates shouldn’t criticize Heller for his vote; while President Barack Obama is wrong on much of what he says about guns, he’s right about one thing: We need a debate on the issue, and the victims of recent mass shootings deserve that debate.

Now, when it comes to background checks themselves, I’m not sure how Heller will vote. (Heller’s spokeswoman says he’s still reviewing the bill.)

If it were me, I’d vote for it. As far as I’m concerned, all gun sales or transfers to anyone outside your immediate family should trigger a background check, and sales even within a family should be prohibited if a person knows or has reason to know that a family member is prohibited from owning a gun because of criminal history or struggles with mental illness.

How can a gun lover say that? Because this gun lover believes what the National Rifle Association has been saying for all these years (up until this debate, at least): We need to enforce the laws we have. And how can we enforce the laws we have aimed at keeping weapons away from violent felons and the mentally ill without background checks?

And no, I don’t believe this solution will stop the next horrific act of gun violence. But I do believe it will make it moderately more difficult for the wrong people to get guns, and that’s a good thing.

Now, when it comes to the inevitable amendments to the background check bill, including attempts to ban assault weapons, 30-round rifle magazines, or the like, I’m with the opponents. Such actions clearly infringe on the Second Amendment and court rulings that have interpreted it. If I were Heller or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, I’d vote against them on that basis.

Up in Carson City last week, a pair of bills aimed at keeping guns from the mentally ill passed, with some anguish. State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, sponsored a bill to report a person to the background-check database once a physician has signed a petition for involuntary commitment to a mental health facility. State Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, had a bill to immediately transmit a court judgment that a person is mentally unfit to the state background-check database, and to require background checks for private-party sales.

Lawmakers on the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee were inundated with grassroots e-mails against the proposals, although a Democratic poll recently found 86 percent of people in Nevada strongly or somewhat favor background checks for all gun sales and keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

“I understand this is not an easy issue,” Jones said at the hearing. “But we need to stop cowering at the vocal but small minority and do what is right for our constituents, for our children and the state.”

As a certified gun lover, I couldn’t agree more.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.