weather icon Clear

Nevada’s new gun background check law ends before it begins

CARSON CITY — A new Nevada law requiring background checks for private party gun sales was deemed unenforceable Wednesday, days before it was to take effect because the FBI refuses to conduct them and the state lacks authority to do so.

The opinion issued by the office of Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt left gun enthusiasts elated and proponents of background checks reeling from the blow of another setback — the second since 2013 when a bill requiring universal screenings was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Backers are now turning their sights to the 2017 Legislature, while others expressed hope that the state and FBI can work out a compromise.

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, said the Senate “will consider legislative solutions this session to ensure that Nevada law is enforced.” The Legislature convenes Feb. 6.

Ballot Question 1, narrowly approved by voters in November, was set to take effect Sunday. It required background checks on private-party gun transfers, similar to sales made when someone buys a gun through a federally licensed dealer.

But unlike retail sales, the initiative states that dealers conducting background checks for private transfers must contact the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System to determine whether the buyer is eligible to purchase or possess firearms under state and federal law.

“The Background Check Act mandates that the FBI conduct all background checks for personal transfers,” Monica Moazez, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said in a statement. “The FBI, on Dec. 14, informed the Department of Public Safety that it will not conduct these background checks.

“Accordingly, the official Attorney General Opinion concludes that without this central feature … the Background Check Act cannot commence.”

The opinion was requested by James Wright, Nevada Department of Public Safety director, who sought guidance after being informed by the FBI that it would not conduct background checks alone.

In its letter, the FBI said Nevada is a “point of contact” state that uses the federal NICS system and a state central repository — a database that includes such things as mental health records, domestic violence incidents, misdemeanor criminal records and arrests reports, as well as restraining orders.

“The state of Nevada can provide a more comprehensive NICS check that is accomplished when a (point of contact) accesses state-held databases that are not available to the FBI,” the letter said. “The Nevada DPS is also in a better position for understanding and applying state laws.”

It concluded that “the recent passage of the Nevada legislation regarding background checks for private sales cannot dictate how federal resources are applied.”

Crimes Against Public Health and Safety & Request Letter by Las Vegas Review-Journal on Scribd

Opinions from the attorney general’s office are not legally binding and or set legal precedent. But coupled with the FBI’s stance it is a major setback for the gun background check effort that began in 2013, when Democrats controlled both chambers of the Nevada Legislature and passed a bill requiring universal background checks on all gun transfers. Sandoval, a Republican, vetoed the measure, saying it infringed on Nevadans’ Second Amendment rights.

Proponents, financed largely by Everytown for Gun Safety, a group formed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, filed an initiative to take the issue directly to voters. Question 1 failed in every Nevada county except Clark, which, with an overwhelming Democratic population base, pushed it to passage by nearly 10,000 votes.

Laxalt’s opinion got some state Democrats fired up Wednesday.

“Background checks are the law in Nevada, and it is the Attorney General’s job to enforce Nevada law,” Ford said in a statement. “It is clear however, that he has succumbed to out-of-state special interests interested in thwarting the will of the people.”

Jennifer Crowe, spokeswoman for Nevada Moms Demand Action, and a part of the campaign to pass extended background checks, echoed the sentiment. She said the group is confident the state and the FBI will work together to implement the will of the people.

Crowe said several states have hybrid systems using both in-state and federal systems, and the Department of Public Safety can explore other options with the FBI.

“There are lots of ways to resolve it this, if people want to resolve it,” she said.

Opposition to the new law was funded mainly from the National Rifle Association. Robert Uithoven, director of NRA Nevadans for Freedom and a close ally of Laxalt, hailed the opinion.

“This is what happens when you allow uninformed, out-of-state groups that prey on people’s emotions to write your laws,” Uithoven said in a statement.

A core argument from the opposition campaign was that the law was poorly written, and Don Turner, president of the Nevada Firearms Coalition, said the FBI letter proved that.

The firearms coalition reached out to Laxalt’s office shortly after the election for guidance on how to proceed with the new law, Turner said. A meeting was requested, but Laxalt’s office responded that a meeting may not be necessary.

“Whoever put the ballot initiative together didn’t research very well,” Turner said. “It’s what we kept saying all along.”

Sandoval spokeswoman Mari St. Martin said the governor will review the opinion and discuss it with the department of public safety.

Justin Jones, a former state senator who carried the 2013 bill, suggested Laxalt’s opinion was politically motivated.

“A version of this law passed the Nevada Legislature, was later upheld by a state court and then made law by a majority of Nevadans,” he said in an email. “Attorney General Laxalt’s job is to enforce the laws, not to seek out ways to avoid enforcing laws he doesn’t agree with to advance his conservative political agenda.”

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Follow @SandraChereb on Twitter. Contact Wesley Juhl at wjuhl@reviewjournal.com and 702-383-0391. Follow @WesJuhl on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
Eveything you need to know about Area 51

Planning to Storm Area 51? Here are some things you should know about the famed government testing facility that everyone knows of but of which little is known.