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Nevada group starts petition for gun background checks

Nevadans for Background Checks on Monday launched a statewide campaign to gather signatures for a proposed 2016 ballot initiative to expand required background checks to all gun sales in Nevada, with certain exceptions.

Backers included religious and law enforcement leaders as well as state Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, who sponsored similar expanded gun background check legislation in the 2013 session.

Jones’ bill, SB221, passed both houses of the Nevada Legislature, but GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed the measure.

Jones argued that public opinion in Nevada supports universal background checks, according to a March 2013 poll that showed 86 percent backing. Also, he said statistics show that states with universal background checks have lower rates of female homicides by intimate partners (by 38 percent) and police shootings (by 39 percent).

“We know background checks help keep guns out of the hands of felons and the mentally ill,” Jones said, whose group says some 40 percent of gun sales are through private means.

Under Nevada law, background checks are required for sales at gun stores to prevent felons or those who have been judged mentally ill from buying firearms. But such checks are voluntary when weapons are sold at private gun shows, for example, or between private parties anywhere, including in a Wal-Mart parking lot, Jones noted.

“Tragedy would be prohibited,” Jones said at a news conference at Victory Missionary Baptist Church on West Monroe Avenue.

Jones was joined by supporters, including the church’s pastor, Dr. Robert E. Fowler, former Clark County Sheriff Bill Young and Lisa Lynn Chapman, director of community relations at Safe Nest, a domestic violence crisis center.

Jones said he wanted to form a broad coalition to gather the needed 101,667 signatures by Nov. 11. If successful, the measure will go to the Legislature in 2015. If lawmakers pass it and the governor signs it, the initiative becomes law. If the Legislature doesn’t approve or rejects it within 40 days, the initiative would go to the voters in 2016 for approval.

The initiative’s universal background check proposal is different from Jones’ SB221, he said, partly to address concerns by Sandoval and other Second Amendment Rights supports who reject the idea of private sales going through extra checks.

For example, Jones said exceptions would be made for gun transfers between family members and for the purposes of hunting and self-defense, where a gun might be loaned out for sport or for protection.

Asked if he thinks he can change Sandoval’s mind, Jones smiled and said he hoped “he’ll consider some of the changes” and sign the proposed law — if it makes it through the Legislature, which the senator said is a difficult task.

A spokeswoman for Sandoval suggested the governor is opposed to the initiative petition.

“The governor has not yet reviewed the final language of the initiative. However, he has consistently stated that he cannot support anything which constitutes an erosion of our Second Amendment rights,” said Mari St. Martin, the governor’s communications director. “While he supports enhanced reporting requirements concerning mentally ill persons, he will not support any legislation that imposes unreasonable burdens and harsh penalties upon law-abiding Nevadans, while doing little to prevent criminals from illegally obtaining firearms.”

In Sandoval’s 2013 veto message, the former federal judge said made a similar statement about SB221.

Don Turner of the Nevada Firearms Coalition, which opposes the petition, said expanding background checks is a ruse.

“The proposed background check is more about forcing the firearm to be entered into a federal data base than it is about trying to prevent existing criminals from acquiring guns from private sales,” Turner said in a recent interview.

Jones’ opponent for the Senate District 9 seat said in a Friday interview with Review-Journal columnist Steve Sebelius that she opposed Jones’ universal background check bill and supported Sandoval’s veto.

Becky Harris, a Republican attorney, said she believes that background checks at licensed firearms dealers are constitutional, but she had technical objections to Jones’ legislation, Sebelius reported.

“We already have a statute on the books that allows for voluntary private party background checks,” Harris said.

She said her big concern with SB221 is that it didn’t clearly define what a “transfer” of a gun means.

Harris hasn’t taken a stand on The Background Check Initiative yet, she said in the interview.

“I don’t know that I don’t support the petition,” she said. “I need to have a better understanding of how it impacts.”

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.

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