Laxalt revisits opinion on gun sales background checks

CARSON CITY — A legal opinion from Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt on a stalled private gun sale background check measure says Gov. Brian Sandoval can again ask the FBI to perform the work.

But the legal analysis issued Thursday also says there are potential safety risks should Nevada change from its current status where all background checks are performed by the state.

Sandoval sought the opinion on Oct. 4, just days after 58 people were killed in a mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Ballot Question 1, narrowly approved by voters last November and set to take effect this year, requires background checks on private-party gun transfers, similar to sales made when someone buys a gun through a licensed dealer.

But unlike retail sales, the initiative stated that dealers conducting background checks for private transfers had to contact the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System to determine whether the buyer was legally eligible to purchase or possess firearms.

The FBI has twice refused to conduct the checks, putting the enforcement of the measure in limbo.

The attorney general’s opinion says it does not disagree with background check advocates that Sandoval can re-approach the FBI “with a proposed policy solution.”

But the opinion notes that to implement the ballot measure, Nevada would be asking the FBI to perform background checks not required federal law, while the state would continue to perform those checks that are required by federal law.

No state has such an arrangement.

The background checks now performed by the state are considered superior to a background check that would be performed by the FBI, the opinion notes.

Any change to the current system “would be trading a superior, safe system for an inferior, less comprehensive one,” the opinion says. “This is an important policy consideration that should be weighed against competing policy considerations, including those advanced by the Nevadans for Background Checks.”

Contact Sean Whaley at or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.

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