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Gun-control lawyer recommends breaking federal law

Faced with a difficult question about the background check bill, a lawyer for Everytown for Gun Safety recommended violating federal law.

On Tuesday, state Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, and William Rosen, an Everytown attorney, presented a universal background check bill. It mirrored the initiative, Question 1, passed in 2016. The only difference is that it requires state-run background checks on private-party firearm sales and transfers. The initiative required the FBI to run those checks, but the feds refused — which is why it never went into effect.

The proposal, Senate Bill 143, exempts some exchanges, including ones that occur between immediate family members. That includes spouses, parents and children, but not in-laws. Assemblywoman Jill Tolles, R-Reno, shared that she bought her first firearm from her sister-in-law and previously received hunting rifles from her father-in-law. Tolles asked if those transfers would now result in a gross misdemeanor.

“In those instances, the simplest solution would probably be for your spouse or your sibling, if they took possession of the gun and then gave the gun to you,” Rosen said.

That’s a logical solution with one small problem. That would be a straw purchase, which is a crime punishable by 10 years in jail.

Under federal law, a straw purchaser is someone who obtains a firearm intending to transfer it to someone else. The goal is to stop someone without a criminal record from buying a gun for someone who can’t obtain one legally. Having purer motives doesn’t make it any less illegal. None of that seemed to occur to Rosen — until a gun store owner pointed it out while testifying against the bill.

Rosen’s response was terrible advice but an excellent illustration of the best argument against the bill.

“Laws like this only apply to people who are law-abiding,” state Sen. Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, said.

If a gun-control advocate can spontaneously describe how to get around a background check, criminals aren’t going to have a problem ignoring the law. It will, however, be a hassle for responsible gun owners.

Normally, when legislators point out issues such as these, a friendly amendment would be accepted without controversy. Not in this case.

“That the presenters of SB143 instructed people to intentionally circumvent the express intent of the bill, then were found speechless when asked to find language that avoids the need for lawlessness, is truly astonishing,” Sen. Keith Pickard, R-Henderson, tweeted.

Democrats insisted that the bill pass without amendments. And pass it did. The Senate approved it just 50 hours after the public first saw the language. That’s fast for any bill, but the dizzying pace is unnecessary for a proposal that won’t go into effect until January 2020. The Assembly is scheduled to pass the bill today.

Gov. Steve Sisolak will soon sign universal background checks into law. But his signature can’t fix the bill’s underlying deficiency.

Inconveniencing only law-abiding citizens isn’t an effective approach to crime prevention.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 9 a.m. with Kevin Wall on 790 Talk Now. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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