Nevada Senate considers bills to restrict guns for mentally ill

CARSON CITY — As the dust begins to settle from a scuffle in the Nevada Legislature over gun control, only two substantial plans remain that would overhaul firearms policy in the state.

Republicans and Democrats each have raised a proposal that would restrict access to firearms for mentally ill people, setting up a state Senate debate in the immediate aftermath of a stinging defeat for federal gun control advocates in Congress.

Nevada policymakers also find themselves taking up the gun bills following a high-profile mass shooting that rattled the state, putting them in a similar position to their counterparts in Colorado and Connecticut, where new firearms restrictions were passed this year. This is the first legislative session in Carson City since four people were killed in the 2011 shooting rampage at an IHOP restaurant just two miles from the Capitol.

“There is significant evidence that a lot of the mass shootings involve folks who suffer from various mental illnesses,” said state Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, who is the primary sponsor of SB221.

Jones’ proposal aims to keep guns away from dangerous people in Nevada by expanding the background check system, requiring a review almost any time a firearm changes hands . Penalties for those who hand over weapons im­properly include loss of gun rights for two years and, in some cases, prison.

Background checks have prevented almost 2 million people nationally, including the mentally ill, from obtaining a firearm, Jones said, citing National Instant Criminal Background Check System statistics over the past 15 years.

“If even one of them stopped at that point as a result of not being able to purchase a gun because they failed a background check then we did our job,” he said. “We prevented another killing. We prevented another suicide.”

The Nevada proposal, however, comes after the U.S. Senate last week rejected expanded background checks despite strong public support.

Jones’ bill also requires doctors to report any instance of a mentally ill person making a specific threat to someone else or themselves — a law already enforced in 45 other states.

Republicans are skeptical that the bill will prevent dangerous people from getting firearms illegally.

“I don’t think it gets at the criminal or the acute psychotic person,” said state Sen. Joseph Hardy, R-Boulder City, in opposition to the bill recently.

Republican state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer wants to rework the current system that calls for revoking the gun rights of those involuntarily committed to the state mental system.

Loopholes in the system allow an overwhelming majority of mentally ill patients to maintain their gun rights, said Kieckhefer, R-Reno, the primary sponsor of SB277.

To fix the system, his bill would take away gun rights from those who refuse initial recommendations to seek psychiatric help. Rights can be reinstated after three years, or immediately if a judge says the doctor was wrong to re­commend help.

Kieckhefer says only about 9 percent of the roughly 4,700 people whom doctors recommended for treatment for severe mental illness over the past two years lost their gun rights.

He says his plan would improve that rate.

Both measures face several legislative hurdles, including a Tuesday deadline to be approved by the state Senate, before they could become law.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval could veto any plan that reaches his desk. He does not comment on pending legislation; however, his spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner said Friday that Sandoval thinks “individuals with mental illness should not have access to guns.”