In the moments after shots rang out on the Strip, there were countless instances of heroism, sacrifice and bravery. Those acts, coupled with the outpouring of support that followed, are what is best about America.
And when it comes to recognizing the courageous actions of law enforcement, first responders and everyday citizens, I’m in agreement with Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt as expressed in his Oct. 22 Review-Journal commentary, “Nevada’s Question 1 wouldn’t have stopped Strip attacker.”
I take exception, however, with the Mr. Laxalt’s comments suggesting that “political gain” is behind the renewed discussion of the need to implement the background check law passed last year by Nevada voters. As the father of a son taken by gun violence, I speak out about this issue not for political gain, but in hopes of sparing other families the pain that ours lives with every day.
My 17-year-old son Chris was murdered in 2004 by a coward with a modified fully automatic TEC-9, loaded with a 50-round magazine. My son and his friends were stopped at a traffic light, unarmed, waiting for the light to change, when the shooter came up behind them and emptied his 50 rounds into the back of their vehicle, in an act the authorities described as road rage. Chris had his whole life ahead of him. But in an instant, a dangerous man with a gun he purchased at an Arizona gun show took that all away.
When Nevada voters passed Question 1 last year, we chose to close the background check loophole that has made it far too easy for people in Nevada — and in other states such as Arizona — to buy guns with no questions asked. But Gov. Brian Sandoval and Mr. Laxalt have refused to enforce the new law, even after the Vegas tragedy.
As I’ve followed coverage of this issue, I’ve been saddened to hear that the attorney general’s family has been subjected to threats of violence in recent weeks. Violence and threats have no place in our society, and I hope Mr. Laxalt knows that regardless of our political differences, my family and the others we know who have been affected by gun violence stand with his family against all acts of intimidation. But I hope the attorney general knows too that when we speak out about the urgency of enforcing our background check law, we do it because this sensible law really can save lives.
Although federal law requires background checks for all gun sales by licensed dealers, unlicensed sellers online and at gun shows don’t face the same requirement — making it easy for felons, domestic abusers and people with dangerous histories to buy a gun with no questions asked. Eighteen other states have closed this loophole, and — when compared to states without strong background check laws — states that require background checks for all handgun sales see approximately half the number of women shot to death by intimate partners, suicides by gun, law enforcement officers shot and killed in the line of duty and gun trafficking in cities.
I spent months urging Nevadans to add our state to this list, sharing my painful story in the hope that more parents won’t have to outlive their children due to something that is completely preventable. And on Election Day, Nevadans passed Question 1 with a majority of votes.
But 12 months later, the law still hasn’t gone into effect because Gov. Sandoval and Mr. Laxalt have refused to work to implement it. It’s no secret they have opposed this bill from the beginning, as the governor vetoed a similar bill that passed the 2013 Legislature and the attorney general starred in an NRA ad opposing Question 1. But now that the voters have weighed in, they have an obligation to work to see that it’s implemented.
There is no one solution to all gun violence and I’m not saying the background check law would have stopped the massacre in Las Vegas. But every day that goes by with this law not implemented means someone can easily get a gun in our state with no background check and no questions asked.
My wife and I know all too well the tough road ahead for all involved in the horrific shooting on Oct. 1 — or any shooting for that matter. We’re keeping them in our thoughts and prayers, hoping that they realize they are not alone.
And at the same time, we’ll keep urging Gov. Sandoval and Attorney General Laxalt to work to implement the background check law we passed as voters last year. If this isn’t the right time to talk about how to prevent gun violence in Nevada, I don’t know when is.
Bert Heyman is a member of the Everytown Survivor Network. He is a Carson City resident.