It says something about the popularity of your proposal when you’re desperate to hide it from the public. That’s what legislative Democrats did with a bill requiring background checks on private-party gun sales.
At 8 a.m. Tuesday, a joint meeting of the Assembly and Senate judiciary committees is scheduled to consider a new background check bill. Despite — or because of — the intense public interest in this bill, Democrats kept it hidden for as long as possible. They didn’t even make the proposal public until mid-Monday. That’s less than 24 hours before the hearing. Tellingly, the Senate committee requires that proposed amendments be submitted 24 hours before a hearing.
The proposal, Senate Bill 143, requires private-party gun transfers to undergo state-run background checks. Nevada charges a $25 fee for a background check, but the bill requires state taxpayers to pick up the tab.
Federal law already requires background checks on sales from a firearms dealer. In 2016, Nevadans narrowly approved a universal background check initiative. It mandated that private-party gun buyers pass a federal background check — which is done without a cost to state taxpayers or a fee. Initiative supporters specifically chose that route to avoid a fiscal note. They worried the initiative would fail if there were a cost. The proposal’s tiny victory at the polls bears this out.
But it made the initiative unenforceable. Nevada runs its own background check system. It couldn’t force the federal government to run background checks on private-party sales.
If SB143 had gone to voters, it likely would have failed. That’s why Democrats hope to keep the opposition in the dark about this bait and switch.
That’s not all. Democratic leaders say they’re going to pass the background check bill this week. What’s the rush? Republican insiders point to gun-control advocates, such as former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, being in town. Democrats want them at the signing ceremony.
Neither the travel schedule of out-of-state lobbyists nor the one-year anniversary of the tragic Stoneman Douglas shooting are legislative emergencies. Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, state Sen. Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson and Gov. Steve Sisolak all portray themselves as moderate or concerned about bipartisanship in some way. This week will blow the facade off that image.
What’s ironic is that there’s no policy reason for the rush. The background check bill wouldn’t go into effect until Jan. 1. That’s because the state constitution forbids the Legislature from amending initiatives within three years of voter approval. But even this new measure should be ripe for a legal challenge. The constitution doesn’t provide an exception for legislative changes made within the three years but delayed past the deadline.
Despite the secrecy, expect many opponents to make their voices heard at the hearing Tuesday, even though Democrats have made it clear they have no interest in listening.
A previous version of this column incorrectly described who would pay for the private-party background checks.