CARSON CITY — Lawmakers were asked Friday to back a bill stepping up state record-keeping to help keep guns away from the mentally ill, but were told by a critic of the plan that it’s a “stacked deck” targeting Nevadans’ constitutional rights.
Assembly Judiciary Committee members were told by Deputy Attorney General Kerry Benson that AB46 is required under a 2007 federal law change and that federal funds could be lost if it’s not approved.
Benson said Nevada must make a “reasonable attempt” to comply with the federal law, approved after the 2007 mass shootings at Virginia Tech that left 33 people dead, including the gunman whose prior psychiatric treatment wasn’t listed in records checked by gun dealers who sold him weapons.
Under AB46, any court records on mental competency, insanity pleas, forced admissions to mental health facilities or appointments of a guardian for someone deemed to be incompetent would have to be forwarded to the state’s central repository for crime records.
The state repository in turn would transmit the court records to the federal criminal background database, which gets queries from gun dealers when someone attempts to buy weapons.
Benson said AB46 includes a way for someone to petition a court to determine whether there’s still a basis for prohibiting gun ownership, but an American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada representative said the protections in the bill aren’t enough.
Rebecca Gasca of the ACLU said the bill “presents a stacked deck against Nevadans and their constitutional rights” by making it easy for them to lose their constitutional rights to own weapons and “a huge uphill battle” to get those rights restored.
Gasca said full due process rights are mandated when constitutional rights are at stake, and that due process requirement isn’t met in the bill. She added there’s no requirement on the state to update a record submitted to the federal database, and there’s even a provision giving them immunity from lawsuits for errors or inaction.
Because Nevada officials couldn’t guarantee that the federal database would be corrected in the event of an error or a restoration of rights, Gasca said Nevadans entitled to have weapons could instead wind up with “a lifelong gun ban by the feds.”
Assembly Judiciary Chairman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, questioned whether Gasca was suggesting that the state should have some sort of control over the federal government.
Gasca said that’s not what she was suggesting, but added, “Our state does have a long history of questioning overarching federal rules and keeping a wary and being very careful in considering the individual rights” under the federal and Nevada constitutions.