A bill aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of the severely mentally ill won support Thursday from law enforcement officials, but faced stiff opposition from gun owners who objected to including a universal background check in the broad legislation.
Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, said he authored Senate Bill 221 in the wake of tragic mass shootings involving mentally ill gunmen at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December and at the IHOP restaurant in Carson City in 2011.
“Sandy Hook changed things for me as it did for many others,” Jones said in testifying before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, which he normally chairs. “Without legislation like this, we risk another Sandy Hook, another IHOP, every day.”
Jones said the measure is meant to close loopholes in the law and ensure better reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is used to determine if potential gun buyers are prohibited from purchasing firearms because of their legal or mental history.
His bill would give the state five days to send records to the background check system of mentally ill individuals who are involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital. Now, those records are only transferred if the person is held at least 30 days, according to Clark County family court Judge William Voy.
Involuntary commitments are done for people who are judged to be a harm to themselves or others.
Jones’ measure also would require psychiatrists to have a “duty to report” to law enforcement and potential victims when a patient threatens somebody and has the means to carry out the threat.
In addition, the bill would extend required gun background checks to private purchases and transfers of firearms. Now, such checks must be done in Nevada only for retail sales of guns.
Law enforcement officials from across the state supported the measure, including those from the Metropolitan Police Department.
During the hearing, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department gave an example of a recent case where a mentally ill man had purchased several weapons legally, yet was a clear danger since he had openly threatened his neighbors and a nearby school.
The man’s mother finally called authorities, saying he had started sleeping with his AR-15 rifle, fully loaded with two magazines nearby. She hung up without giving her name, but police figured out who she was and went to the family’s home and confiscated the son’s weapons for up to 30 days.
Despite support for preventing mentally ill from getting guns, most of those who testified opposed the measure because of the universal background check provision in the bill.
The National Rifle Association and other guns rights groups opposed the measure. Dozens of people who packed hearing rooms in Carson City and Las Vegas said the bill went too far and would trample Nevadans’ Second Amendment rights to own and carry guns.
In particular, opponents objected to requiring $25 background checks for gun transfers because that could apply to family gifts and even lending a firearm to a buddy for a hunting weekend.
“It is a gun control bill put into a mental health bill,” said Don Turner, president of the Nevada Firearms Coalition. “We believe they should be separated out. Many parts of this bill are flawed.”
Contact reporter Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.