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Gun background check bill closer to becoming Nevada law

Updated February 13, 2019 - 7:01 pm

CARSON CITY — Nevada’s stalled background check law took another step on its all-but-sure path toward becoming reality Wednesday as the state Senate approved a legislative tweak to the language.

Lawmakers in the Senate on Wednesday voted 13-8 along party lines to approve Senate Bill 143, which would require state-conducted background checks for all private firearm sales and transfers

“I think what provides us gratitude today is that our voters are going to finally be heard,” Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, told reporters after the vote, referring to the 2016 law that gained voter approval but has not been implemented.

For nearly two hours, Democratic and Republican senators traded impassioned speech after impassioned speech to show their support or opposition to the bill, including stories of personal experiences gun violence.

“My youngest brother and my oldest brother have two things in common other than kinship,” said Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas. “Both served in the Marines, both served in combat. And both were murdered after they came back from the war zone by people who should not have had weapons.”

Spearman’s oldest brother was shot and killed in 1969, and her youngest was killed in a shooting in 2007.

“Do not tell me — do not tell me — that we cannot do something, the right thing, to protect those who need to be protected from people who have no right and no reason to have a weapon. We’re better than that,” Spearman said. “If we could go back in time, and I can take Senate Bill 143 and put that in Oceanside, California, in 1969, and I could put it in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 2007. If I could do that, my brothers would still be here.”

Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said he understands the personal stories.

“I’ve had a lot of people in my community take their own lives,” Settelmeyer said. “Including my father.”

Settelmeyer said many of his constituents in his rural Nevada district view the bill as an affront and violation of their Second Amendment rights. But the law goes further than that, he said.

“I think it’s an assault on our very way of life in the rest of the state of Nevada,” Settelmeyer said.

Sen. Keith Pickard, R-Henderson, offered the only proposed amendment to the bill, saying that as written, it “has critical flaws” in regard to what he called vagueness in what constitutes a firearm transfer.

The amendment failed on a voice vote, and Sen. Melanie Scheible, D-Las Vegas, who is also a prosecutor, said the legal system is “perfectly equipped” to determine when the legal possession of a firearm is transferred.

Sen. Dallas Harris, D-Las Vegas, called the bill “the epitome of common sense.”

“It does not take anyone’s guns away, infringe on anyone’s rights to own a gun, nor present an unreasonable burden,” Harris said. “I proudly stand in support of this bill, even if it saves just one life.”

The bill was sent to the Assembly, where supportive Democrats who hold a supermajority are expected to pass it in the coming days. The Assembly read the bill during a floor session Wednesday afternoon and are expected to hold a work session where amendments could be proposed. Gov. Steve Sisolak has signaled that he would sign the bill once it got to his desk.

The vote came a day after lawmakers held a marathon eight-hour meeting that included hundreds of supporters and opponents of the bill who took two-minute turns to chime in on the proposed change.

Atkinson said the bill is a fulfillment of the will of the voters who approved the Background Check Initiative in 2016. But the law has not been implemented because of its requirement that the checks be conducted by the FBI. The new measure aims to remedy that by requiring the state to conduct those checks.

The bill would not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2020, as that is the earliest that Nevada law allows for 2016 ballot measures to be altered by the Legislature.

Despite the defeat of Pickard’s amendment, Atkinson did not rule entertaining other possible changes to the background check law’s language as the 120-day lawmaking session continues.

“I’m not ever going to say no,” he said. “I’ve been here for 17 years, and I’ve always considered the legislative process a negotiating process. And if anything earth-shattering comes up and makes our citizens safer, with a safer background amendment, I think our party would be willing to listen.”

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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