A District Court judge this week refused to bail out sponsors of a voter-approved gun background check initiative that has yet to be implemented due to problems inherent in the measure’s language. It was the right decision.
Nevada’s Question 1 passed in 2016 by less than 1 percentage point and mandated background checks on private-party gun sales and transfers. In order to mute opposition about the potential costs of such reviews, those who wrote the proposal made the calculated decision to require that licensed dealers run the checks through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System rather than use the state’s own “point-of-contact” database.
Given its narrow margin of victory, it’s no exaggeration to say the cost aspect was likely a factor in the measure’s successful passage. A fiscal note on the initiative informed voters, “No Nevada tax dollars will be used to conduct Question 1 background checks because the checks will be run by the FBI.”
But the wording turned out to be a fatal mistake.
After the measure was approved, FBI officials informed the state they would not spend time and treasure running background checks for Nevada that are not required by federal law. The state Department of Public Safety then sought an opinion from Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s office, which concluded Question 1 was unenforceable if the FBI refused to act.
Proponents of the initiative — bankrolled in part by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety — angrily accused Mr. Laxalt and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval of shirking their duties by failing to enforce a legally enacted ballot measure. Last October, they sued.
In fact, the fate of Question 1 has nothing to do with Mr. Laxalt or Gov. Sandoval and everything to do with poor decisions made by those who brought it before the voters. And on Monday, District Judge Joe Hardy Jr. agreed, dismissing the legal action. The judge said proponents of Question 1 offered “fundamentally flawed” arguments and concluded the governor and attorney general had indeed made “a real and substantive effort” to convince the FBI to cooperate.
Judge Hardy also struck a blow for the separation of powers by rejecting the notion that he could order Mr. Laxalt or Gov. Sandoval to take specific steps to satisfy the backers of Question 1. “The governor has a duty to faithfully execute the laws,” he wrote, “but this does not create a related right, in either the citizens or the courts, to micromanage that duty to the level of wordsmithing executive branch communications.”
Question 1 proponents may appeal the ruling. They shouldn’t bother. And instead of scapegoating Mr. Laxalt or Gov. Sandoval for political gain, perhaps they should invest in a rather large mirror.