State lawmaker proposes gun, ammo tax, gun seller liability

Gun and ammunition sales would include another tax, and firearm sellers could be held liable for the actions of buyers if a prominent Nevada lawmaker gets his way.

Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, said Friday a bill draft request he submitted seeks to raise funding for mental health treatment and increase pressure on firearm owners who sell guns to confirm the buyer is a responsible purchaser.

The text of the bill is not yet available, but Horne said he asked for a draft to include a sales tax of $25 per gun and 2 cents for each round of ammunition.

The money would go toward prevention of mental health-related violence and treatment for the victims.

The bill would impose the risk of civil liability on people who sell guns without conducting background checks, similar to those conducted by licensed dealers. It would also grant immunity to sellers who do perform the proper background check even if the buyer goes on to do harm with the gun, Horne said.

The bill would outlaw what Horne characterized as “armor piercing” bullets. The ammunition, referred to in Nevada law as “metal penetrating” ammunition, is already illegal to sell or manufacture in the state if it can be fired from a handgun.

Though the Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — where the shooter killed 20 children and six adults — has prompted talk of gun control legislation nationwide, including Nevada, Horne’s bill faces a tough road to passage.

In Nevada, a two-thirds majority in each chamber of the Legislature is required for bills that include new taxes or tax increases. Therefore Horne’s bill would require broad, bipartisan support.

Horne, a gun owner and concealed- weapon permit holder, said the bill would accomplish important goals.

For starters, he said, the taxes would make the connection between gun violence and mental health issues that have been discussed since the Sandy Hook massacre.

“People have always been saying those are areas that need to be addressed,” Horne said.

It also seeks to raise the stakes when it comes to responsible gun ownership by giving sellers of firearms added incentive to be sure they sell to responsible buyers, he said.

Under existing federal law, sales from licensed firearms dealers can only be completed when the buyer successfully passes a background check to ensure the person isn’t legally prohibited from owning a gun.

Sales between private parties aren’t covered by the requirement, a disparity gun control advocates refer to as the “gun show loophole.”

Horne’s bill appears to address that aspect of the law, at least in Nevada. Not only would it expose people who don’t conduct background checks to litigation, it would ensure those who do perform checks aren’t later held responsible for the behavior of another person.

“If you are going to be a responsible gun owner you should be responsible for who you sell firearms to,” Horne said.

Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, was noncommittal about the requested bill.

Denis questioned whether the provisions will move forward in their entirety unchanged, particularly given the two-thirds vote requirement to raise fees or taxes.

But the provisions for funding mental health are worth considering, given Nevada’s past reductions in those services, he said.

“I’m just seeing it for the first time, but I think there are some interesting parts of it that could warrant further discussion,” Denis said. “I’m sure they will have some interesting discussion on the Assembly side and we’ll have to monitor that.”

Dan Reid, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said without specific language it is too early to stake out a specific position on the proposed bill.

But he did say the concepts raised red flags.

Reid questioned why gun buyers and sellers should bear a disproportionate share of the burden for funding mental health treatment.

“This is something that should be addressed as a community; the firearms owner shouldn’t be saddled with a tax to pay for this,” Reid said.

He also said seller liability for harm committed by a gun buyer would be difficult to enforce without a registration system in place, a concept that is opposed by a significant segment of gun enthusiasts.

“It is really unenforceable without registration of firearms, and this is really what this leads to,” Reid said. “Registration is something no one wants.”

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at or 702-383-0285. Sean Whaley contributed to this article.

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