Gun PAC misfires badly in criticism of Justin Jones


That was close.

To listen to the people behind the new Nevada Firearms Coalition Political Action Committee, gun rights in Nevada barely survived the 2013 Nevada Legislature.

“Nevada gun owners have been silent too long, and because of our silence, state Sen. Justin Jones [D-Las Vegas] almost succeeded in disarming Nevadans,” said Don Turner, president of the coalition and the new PAC. “Nevadans can’t take our Second Amendment rights for granted, so we created this PAC at the request of Nevada gun owners to make sure we use our voice in the future.”

Turner is right: Had Senate Bill 221 passed the 2013 session, it would have prevented ex-felons and the mentally ill from legally purchasing firearms! The humanity.

But Turner is wrong about gun owners being silent. In fact, gun owners have an outsized influence in the Nevada Legislature, an influence that allows even fantastical arguments to pass muster under the cover of protecting the Second Amendment. And now, the voices that shouted down Jones’ modest, common-sense reform are going to try to harangue voters in his district into getting rid of a courageous and intelligent senator.

Those voters shouldn’t allow it.

Jones’ bill would simply have extended the currently required background check to all gun sales in Nevada. Under current law, if you buy a gun from a licensed dealer in his store, he’s required to run a background check. But if you buy a gun out of the trunk of somebody’s car in the parking lot in front of that same gun store, no background check is required. It doesn’t take long to figure out how a person with a troubled past might acquire a firearm without interference from authorities.

So the self-appointed forces of the Second Amendment proudly defended the rights of people to sell their guns to criminals and the potentially insane, and they won. Welcome to the Nevada Legislature.

But the fact is, there are plenty of intelligent, reasonable gun owners out there who had no problem with Jones’ bill, and the Nevada Firearms Coalition PAC doesn’t speak for us. (I say us because I’m an enthusiastic gun owner who believes many of our current laws are too restrictive. But I had no problem enthusiastically supporting Jones’ bill, because I think laws aimed at making it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to get guns are a good idea.)

“Senator Jones, with significant help from former New York Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, tried to force the unreasonable burden of mandatory background checks on law-abiding Nevadans despite undeniable proof that it would not stop criminals from committing crimes,” the PAC says on its website.

Ah, yes, the Pace Picante defense: Jones is wrong because he was supported by a guy from New York City?!

But it’s not just ex-mayors who will find that statement ridiculous: Jones wasn’t trying to create a new law. He was trying to extend the provisions of an existing law to a well-known black loophole that simply shouldn’t exist. And he did so despite knowing his efforts would eventually be mischaracterized and used against him politically.

Oh, by the way, nobody ever said the background check law would stop criminals from committing crimes. Obviously, laws against murder, robbery and aggravated assault don’t stop those crimes from occurring, either. We pass laws in part to punish people for committing bad acts, and, in the case of the background check bill, we pass laws to make it marginally more difficult for bad actors to acquire guns legally. But that’s a good thing.

Voters in Jones’ district hit the lottery: They elected a politician who takes a stand on an issue and doesn’t back down, even in the face of fierce opposition. That’s a rare thing in Nevada, and something his constituents should carefully consider when mulling their choices in November. If you think ex-felons and the mentally ill have a Second Amendment right to purchase firearms legally without undergoing a background check, maybe Jones isn’t your guy. But for the vast majority — gun owners and nongun owners alike — SB 221 is a powerful argument to send Jones back to Carson City.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.