Gun background checks up to Sandoval now


All of a sudden, the TV ad placed by Mayors Against Illegal Guns became relevant.

The group has been urging people to call Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office and urge him not to veto Senate Bill 221, a bill that would require all gun purchasers — including those between private parties — to undergo a background check.

But up until now, it’s been an academic question. The bill has slowly proceeded through the system, nearly dying at the 11th hour in the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Sandoval’s view of the measure was largely academic, because it appeared he might not ever have to formally weigh in.

Until Monday, that is, when the Judiciary Committee passed the measure and sent it to the Assembly floor, where it passed 23-19. (Four Democrats joined minority Republicans to vote against the bill, introduced by Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas.)

Now those calls to Sandoval might actually mean something, as the bill is headed across the capital courtyard to his office.

Sandoval’s spokeswoman, Mary-Sarah Kinner, confirmed Monday that the governor plans to veto SB221. Many expect his veto message to embrace many of the objections raised during the bill’s controversial hearings in the Legislature.

The bill won’t stop crime, including mass shootings. (Then again, nobody ever said it would.)

The bill won’t keep criminals from getting guns on the black market. (Of course it won’t.)

Background checks don’t work. (Of course they do; thousands of people who are not legally allowed to own guns are stopped from legally buying them every year.)

Background checks punish legal gun owners. (Ridiculous; as Assembly Majority Leader William Horne said, are good drivers punished for following the rules when reckless drivers speed on by?)

Background checks will lead to a de facto gun registry. (Like the actual gun registry of pistols maintained by Las Vegas police in Clark County, a database that’s been maintained for decades without mass confiscations of weapons?)

Although Sandoval could secure his Republican base with a veto, it carries a risk. Background checks are quite popular as a concept. One poll consistently cited by supporters of Jones’ bill claims that 86 percent of residents favor them. And even if you accept the conventional wisdom about those polls — that supporters of the checks won’t vote against a person based on that issue alone, while gun rights supporters are likely to make that their only issue — it’s still a risk.

That’s probably why Republicans in Carson City introduced their own measure, which mirrored one of the elements of SB221: swiftly reporting to the state’s background check database any court finding that someone is mentally unfit to possess a firearm. That bill never got a hearing, but if it had, Republicans could have said they did something to keep guns away from mentally ill people, too.

Jones said he hopes Sandoval would consider signing the bill. “I hope he listens to the 86 percent of Nevadans, his constituents, who support background checks,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, some of Jones’ fellow Democrats voted against the measure, lending a bipartisan patina to the opposition that Sandoval could use if he decides to reject the bill. Assemblymen Skip Daly and Mike Sprinkle, both D-Sparks, and Richard Carrillo and James Ohrenschall, both D-Las Vegas, ended up opposed.

Carrillo, in particular, reported “feeling threatened” for his no vote. (Yes, assemblyman, that’s sort of the point of pressure campaigns.) And he lamented having to make a decision on the 120th and final day of the session. (The bill was introduced in draft form on Day Four, giving lawmakers a full four months to debate its merits.)

But regardless of those merits, the work that went into passing the bill, or the merits of the idea that we should make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to legally buy guns, it appears Sandoval will write the final chapter of this story — with a stroke of his veto pen.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or

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