Delay in Nevada gun buyer law draws protests at court debate
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A lawyer seeking a court order to enforce a Nevada gun buyer screening law that has not been enacted despite voter approval in November 2016 blamed the state’s Republican governor and attorney general on Friday for stalling the law.
“For either personal or political reasons,” attorney Mark Ferrario told a state court judge in Las Vegas, Gov. Brian Sandoval and GOP state Attorney General Adam Laxalt “chose to stand back and really do nothing.”
Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence Van Dyke countered that the law was fatally flawed as written because it requires Nevada to have the FBI expend federal resources to enforce a state law.
“State officials here have not tried to avoid implementing the law,” Van Dyke said. “They have negotiated (and) talked with the FBI, and the FBI said no, four times.”
Clark County District Court Judge Joe Hardy Jr. made no immediate ruling after more than 90 minutes of arguments on an issue that drew about 25 sign-toting advocates outside the courthouse calling for enactment of the measure.
“The people have spoken,” said protest speaker Peter Guzman, president of the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce. “To deny that voice is to deny democracy.”
Some speakers, including Democratic state Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, cited the slayings of 58 people by a gunman firing assault-style weapons from a high-rise casino shot into an concert crowd on the Las Vegas Strip last Oct. 1. Jauregui was at the concert.
Others pointed to gun-control measures being debated nationally following a shooting that killed 17 people last week at a school in Parkland, Florida.
In the courtroom, Ferrario referred to what he called a “movement toward increasing gun checks,” while the Nevada law has stalled.
“This loophole that the citizens wanted to close remains open because the governor has failed to take appropriate action,” the plaintiffs’ attorney said.
Sandoval spokeswoman Mari St. Martin dismissed the accusations as “political posturing.” She said the initiative specifically prohibits the state Department of Public Safety from handling background checks, leaving “no clear path forward” to enactment.
A spokeswoman for Laxalt, who is running for governor, said the attorney general stands by his opinion that initiative authors “erred by assuming that the FBI would be willing to run the background checks.”
Hardy, who was appointed to the state court bench by Sandoval in 2015, said he’ll issue a written ruling later. He did not say when.
Sandoval and Laxalt opposed the voter initiative, which passed by less than 1 percent after a contentious campaign to close what proponents called a legal loophole that lets people skip background screenings when buying guns from another person or online.
Nevada is one of 12 states in the nation that handles processing of criminal background checks for gun sales itself, according to data kept by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Since 1998, the Nevada Department of Public Safety has screened sales by federally licensed firearm sellers.
Sandoval maintains the state checks are more thorough than federal checks because they include buyer mental health and criminal records relating to domestic violence, misdemeanor crimes, arrest reports and restraining orders.
Twenty-nine other states and the District of Columbia have the FBI conduct checks through its National Crime Information Center, according to the ATF. Most of the other nine states that split background check responsibility with the FBI handle permits for handguns themselves while the federal agency handles rifles.
Proponents of Nevada’s initiative concede it wouldn’t have prevented the Las Vegas gunman from legally obtaining the cache of assault-style weapons he used to unleash the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
But they say it could help keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them by increasing the number of buyers required to undergo background checks.