The least we can do
It’s one of those times when the people are way ahead of their politicians—at least those politicians more afraid of the National Rifle Association’s campaign checkbook than the voters who want to protect their families from gun violence.
2016 may be the year Nevadans finally tell the NRA leadership “enough” when they pass Question One on the November ballot, closing the gun show loophole which currently allows private firearms sales to be performed without the background check a purchaser would routinely receive at a gun store. This small step forward in gun safety won’t solve the problem of gun violence. But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
In 1998, when I was first elected to the Nevada Assembly, I was counseled to keep my strong feelings about gun safety and its relationship to suicide and accidental child deaths to myself. Talking publicly about gun safety was considered politically dangerous. I did speak out, once, after yet another child was accidentally killed by an unsecured firearm in his home. That was the year we got caller ID. My daughter was instructed not to pick up the phone if it wasn’t a friend or family member. The calls were so bad I almost made a formal report to the police but decided ignoring the threats was better than escalating the fight.
Fast forward to 2016 when we have self-proclaimed militia members displaying their firearms atop horseback like caricatures from the Wild West, pointing them at government officials who insist on protecting public lands for the rest of us. They feel empowered by pandering politicians who reflexively bow to NRA bullies and have no inkling of how out of step they are with the average American fed up with gun violence.
Question One, the Nevada Background Checks for Gun Purchases Initiative, will simply require a background check when a firearm is purchased through a private party, at a gun show, or online, as is currently the practice when purchased at a retail store. There are reasonable exceptions for temporary transfers of guns used for hunting or target shooting, for immediate self-defense, and for transfers between family members. If we prevent people who shouldn’t be purchasing a gun from buying one, it’s not going to destroy the Second Amendment
Many Nevadans still can’t fathom Governor Sandoval’s inexplicable veto of similar legislation passed by legislative Democrats in 2013, but no matter. He only gets one vote this time.
Opponents cite predictable, tired arguments about the huge burden background checks place on law-abiding citizens. The truth is the vast majority of checks are completed within 90 seconds. In the 18 states that have closed the loophole, rates of gun suicides, police officers killed with guns, and women shot and killed by their intimate partners were cut nearly in half. We know that background checks have prevented thousands of felons, domestic abusers and others prohibited from buying guns from getting them at Nevada’s gun stores. Sixty-three percent of the blocked sales were requested by felons and fugitives.
One rural Nevada sheriff whom I deeply respect, Kenny Furlong of Carson City, won’t support Question One, stating the lack of accessible, affordable mental health care is a complicating factor in many violent gun episodes. I agree with his argument that we need better suicide prevention programs and mental health treatment but it’s not realistic to think we’re going to solve that intractable problem overnight either.
Question One won’t end gun violence. But it will stop some people from purchasing guns who shouldn’t have them. It will save lives. We can’t ignore an opportunity to make it harder for dangerous people to get a gun.
Governor Sandoval will just have to catch up with the rest of us.