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Ford asks Nevada court for extension in background check lawsuit

Updated February 12, 2019 - 5:29 pm

CARSON CITY — The same day state lawmakers heard a marathon of testimony on a bill that stands to enact enforceable background checks on private-party gun sales and transfers, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford announced he was moving ahead with a separate strategy.

Ford told reporters Tuesday that, parallel to Senate Bill 143, he is trying to settle with plaintiffs in the Question 1 lawsuit from 2017, filed at a time when former Attorney General Adam Laxalt was at the helm of Ford’s office.

“I think what’s important to note is this administration, as opposed to the last administration, believes that the Background Check Initiative is in fact enforceable,” Ford said. “And so what we’re looking to do is to work with the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to see the best way forward in order to make that happen.”

The lawsuit argued that Laxalt and former Gov. Brian Sandoval could have implemented Question 1 but didn’t. A judge in August dismissed the lawsuit, and its plaintiffs in September appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Ford filed an extension in the case Tuesday as both parties work toward a settlement. If reached, a settlement could allow the state to start enforcing background checks significantly sooner than Senate bill 143, which is expected to pass but would not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2020.

Known as Question 1, voters approved the Background Check Initiative in 2016. As written, the constitutional amendment requires FBI background checks for all private-party gun sales and transfers.

But the measure was never implemented because Laxalt argued that the state could not tell the FBI how to use its resources, rendering the initiative unworkable.

Senate bill 143 would implement the same background checks outlined in Question 1, but it would require private-sale parties to go to a licensed dealer for the checks instead of looping in the FBI.

Ford said that instead of the FBI, he is considering utilizing the Nevada Department of Public Safety to run private-party background checks through the Nevada Criminal History Repository, which houses all Nevada criminal records.

Ford said the department has indicated it is capable of conducting the background checks. If plaintiffs agree to that solution, implementation would start “as soon as we can.”

But even if through a successful settlement Ford’s office was able to green light the Department of Public Safety to start enforcing Question 1 tomorrow, Ford supports SB143 because it would solidify state legal arguments and ensure private-party background checks would remain state law for years to come.

“Every day that we delay could mean another Nevadan is lost to gun violence that could have been prevented by closing the background check loophole,” Ford said at a news conference, a few hours after he testified in favor of the bill. “That’s why I strongly urge this Legislature to pass this bill.”

Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, has said he hopes the bill will pass by Thursday, the anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.

Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3801. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter.

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