CARSON CITY — A debate in the Legislature over how to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill took a twist Tuesday when Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson introduced his own competing bill to help accomplish that goal.
Senate Bill 520, which would not require universal background checks, immediately won the support of GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval.
No hearing has yet be scheduled for the bill.
The bill by Roberson, R-Las Vegas, is intended to counter Senate Bill 221, which would require universal background checks and which was heard Tuesday in the Assembly Judiciary Committee. The committee did not take action on the measure, which saw passionate testimony both for and against.
SB221, sponsored by Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, also contains some of the same provisions being proposed by Roberson in his new measure.
Sandoval has said he would veto SB221 as it is now written.
Jones immediately criticized Roberson’s bill, saying Nevada Republicans “are following the lead of Washington Republicans in opposing any common-sense proposals that will actually reduce gun violence.”
“I urge my Republican colleagues to stop trying to obstruct universal background checks and work with me to pass these common-sense reforms that 86 percent of Nevadans support,” he said.
Roberson’s bill initially showed two Democrats in support, but Assemblyman James Healey and Sen. Mark Manendo, both D-Las Vegas, had their names removed from the measure.
Roberson’s bill would accomplish several objectives, including requiring Nevada courts to transmit records regarding an individual’s mental health to the state criminal history records repository for use in reviewing firearms purchases within five business days.
“This is essential legislation that prohibits criminals and individuals suffering from mental illness from purchasing a firearm,” Roberson said. “We must enact policies that keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves or society.”
Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, said the bill provides enhanced measures to prevent disqualified individuals from possessing firearms while not authorizing the state to gather information about private gun purchases by law-abiding Nevadans who have already passed a background check.
The bill also provides immunity from liability to private-party sellers who voluntarily perform background checks, and waives the Central Repository fee to encourage use of the repository for private-party transactions.
In the hearing on SB221, Jones acknowledged that mandating background checks on private-sale gun purchases would not stop all mass shooting incidents, including December’s Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Conn., that cost the lives of 26 students and staff. But Jones said background checks work and have kept guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.
The bill would require private sellers of guns to complete a purchase at a licensed firearms dealership so a background check could be performed. The cost would be set at $30.
Several members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee spoke favorably of the provisions in Jones’ bill dealing with the mentally ill.
Those provisions include faster reporting of mental health adjudications to state and federal agencies, mandating the state Department of Health and Human Services work with law enforcement and others to ensure mentally ill individuals get treatment, and a “duty to warn” provision requiring mental health professionals to warn if there is a specific intent to harm or kill another person.
Jones said Nevada is one of the few states without a duty to warn provision.
But there was clear opposition among some on the committee to the background check provisions.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at email@example.com or 775-687-3900.