Efforts to pass gun bills founder

CARSON CITY — No matter what side of the issue Nevada legislators favor, most of the dozen or so bills related to the Second Amendment are falling by the wayside in the 2013 session.

A few measures, including one seeking to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and another proposing to implement universal background checks for gun purchases, remain alive, just barely, as the session winds down.

But other measures, from allowing people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses to taxing gun and ammunition sales to fund mental health and victims of crime programs, are already dead.

Efforts to repeal a Clark County gun registration requirement went nowhere when law enforcement officials strongly opposed the proposals.

A bill proposing to ban assault weapons and large-capacity magazines never even saw a hearing, although it was introduced by state Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who had the power to bring it forward.

The intense focus on the issue in Nevada was brought on in large part by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting deaths of 20 first-graders and six educators in Newtown, Conn., in December. But opposing political agendas appear to have met head-on and neutralized the many and varied gun-related bills introduced this session.

Segerblom said he hasn’t totally given up, saying, “We did have the general hearing on the issue, which from my perspective was phenomenal. We’ve never been able to even have a hearing before. It’s obviously a difficult issue, especially here in Nevada, and we just have to keep pushing.”

Segerblom said he supports the bill by state Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, to require universal background checks. It is the simplest way to make a real difference in combating gun violence in the short term, he said.

Segerblom said there did not appear to be an appetite to consider his assault weapons ban this session. Change is a slow process in the Legislature, often requiring more than one session, he said.

Jones is working hard to keep his bill requiring universal background checks alive in the Senate Finance Committee.

On May 6, he proposed an amendment to Senate Bill 221 to bypass state involvement in the proposed private sale background check requirement, instead having such transactions go directly to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. This would eliminate any cost to the state and potentially get the bill approved and over to the Assembly.

Jones said he remains optimistic that his bill will be successful.

But state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said his Senate Bill 277, which would attempt to keep mentally ill people from obtaining firearms, might fail this session. It has a fiscal note that would require state funding, and due process issues have been raised with the measure.

“I’m still trying to find a solution, but I’m not confident at this point that one exists,” Kieckhefer said.

“What happens on the overall issue of gun control, I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to see very much, and I think that is fine.”

He said Jones’ bill is flawed, and “probably fatally so.”

“It’s a heavy lift this session for anyone who is trying to create more gun control in Nevada,” Kieckhefer said.

Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, who proposed the bill to allow those with concealed weapons permits to carry their guns on the campuses of the Nevada System of Higher Education, said the Newtown tragedy and the emotions it provoked made it difficult to strengthen Second Amendment rights this session.

If no harm to Second Amendment rights occurs in Nevada this session, “then I’m fine with that,” she said.

Fiore’s bill did not get a vote in committee even though she said it had enough votes to pass.

Fiore said she is starting now to promote the campus carry bill for next session by getting adult college students actively involved. Only those age 21 or older can obtain a concealed weapons permit in Nevada.

Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Gardnerville, who introduced a bill that would have required Nevada’s top elected officials to file a legal challenge to any presidential executive orders restricting gun rights, saw his bill die without a vote.

Now that Congress has failed to act on the issue at the national level, there is even greater concern that such executive orders will be forthcoming, he said.

The bill had the support to get it out of committee but no vote was held, Wheeler said.

“It’s good to be king,” he said of the Democratic majority in the Assembly.

State Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, is the only lawmaker this session to get a gun-related bill out of one house into the other.

Senate Bill 76 would simplify the process to obtain a concealed weapons permit by allowing individuals to qualify for both semi-automatics and revolvers with a single required course.

It also would clarify in state law that concealed handguns do not include sawed-off shotguns.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.