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Judge hears arguments in Nevada gun background check lawsuit

A state judge shouldn’t have the authority to order Gov. Brian Sandoval to enact a private gun sale background check approved by voters in 2016, the state solicitor general argued in court Tuesday.

“They’re asking the court to order the governor to say specific words, to actually script a letter for the governor and force him to sign it,” Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke said about plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking enactment of the screening measure.

Attorneys on both sides made their arguments Tuesday before District Judge Joe Hardy Jr. on a bid to get Sandoval to ask the FBI to take over conducting criminal background checks during private sales of firearms.

The case landed in Hardy’s Las Vegas courtroom in October, when — just a few days after the Las Vegas mass shooting — three Nevada residents sued Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt, accusing them of failing to implement the law. The residents had been preparing to sue before the Oct. 1 shooting.

State attorneys argued that the law requiring background checks on private gun sales has not been implemented because, based on the ballot language, the state is unable to perform the checks, and the FBI has refused to conduct them.

The Nevadans suing the governor say Sandoval has not done as much as possible to implement the law.

“They’ve attacked the law, front and center,” said Mark Ferrario, a lawyer who advocates for background checks.

Laxalt and Sandoval, both Republicans who opposed the ballot measure, were not “fully and faithfully implementing the laws of the state,” he said.

VanDyke accused the plaintiffs of using the court for political purposes.

“They are using your court, your honor, as a political path for litigation,” he told the judge. “Do not allow your court to be misused.”

Hardy, who was appointed by Sandoval to the state court bench in 2015, has not yet ruled in the case.

“Petitioners’ position is that the governor needs to implement the law; that’s very clear,” Hardy said. “But I have struggled from the very beginning with, what are the details of that? Hasn’t one letter been issued? And at least one phone call?”

VanDyke cited five phone calls from state to federal officials after the measure passed, but Ferrario protested, saying “there is not one letter from the governor’s office to the FBI that adequately sets forth how Question 1 should be implemented.”

“That’s a different thing, though,” the judge responded. “You add the qualifier ‘adequately.’”

About a dozen women in the courtroom wore red “Moms Demand Action” T-shirts in support of the Everytown For Gun Safety advocacy group.

Linda Cavazos, a counselor who works with survivors of victims of gun violence and also serves on the Clark County School District Board of Trustees, said she is a gun owner and wants to uphold the wishes of Nevada voters for more responsible gun owners.

“We’re losing sight of what this is all about, it’s that the voters spoke,” she said. “Every day that this law is not implemented is another day that someone in Nevada can go get another gun without having to go through a proper background check.”

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @brianarerick on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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