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EDITORIAL: Background checks

Leading up to the November election, opponents of Question 1 — a measure to require background checks in Nevada for private gun sales or transfers — argued, among other things, that the initiative was poorly worded and would lead to a number of unintended consequences.

Proponents of the measure — which passed with just 50.45 percent of the vote despite losing in every county except Clark — dismissed such concerns, arguing the measure was carefully crafted to avoid confusion.

We now know who was correct.

On Wednesday, the state attorney general said the law, set to become effective on Sunday, is unenforceable because the FBI refuses to conduct the checks and the state isn’t empowered to do so under the initiative.

The wording of the ballot question demands that gun dealers conducting background checks on private sales or transfers go through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System rather than any state mechanism. But in a letter recently sent to James Wright, the director of the Nevada Department of Public Safety, the agency said it had no inclination to participate.

“The recent passage of the Nevada legislation … cannot dictate how federal resources are applied,” the FBI letter said. The FBI’s refusal to cooperate means the “Background Check Act cannot commence,” said the statement this week from Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s office.

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, a Las Vegas Democrat who supported Question 1, said lawmakers will look for a legislative solution when they reconvene in February. But it’s not certain such a fix would pass muster given constitutional provisions regarding ballot questions.

While the confusion should serve as a cautionary tale when it comes to the details embedded in citizen initiatives, it’s important to acknowledge that supporters of the measure succeeded in convincing a majority of Nevada voters to back the proposal. We urged a “no” vote on Question 1, but it was legally enacted and will become the law unless it is repealed or a court rules otherwise.

As such, Mr. Laxalt’s office has a duty to explore potential compromises with the FBI before declaring the initiative dead and triggering an inevitable legal confrontation.

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