Gov. Steve Sisolak signed Senate Bill 143 into law on Friday, Feb. 15, after it passed through the Nevada Assembly on a vote of 28-13.
The bill requires licensed gun dealers to run a background check on anyone wishing to purchase a firearm. An unlicensed person wishing to sell a gun is required to transfer the gun to a licensed gun dealer, who will then run the background check through the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History.
Exceptions include transfers to immediate family members, temporary transfers to the personal representative of an estate after the death of the owner of the firearm and the sale of an antique firearm.
The bill was introduced on Monday, Feb. 11, with eight primary sponsors. On Tuesday, Feb. 12, the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Assembly Committee on Judiciary held a joint meeting.
The hearing lasted for eight hours and included testimony from several groups in the community.
Governor Steve Sisolak also spoke at the hearing, among other senators and assembly members offering their own testimony.
“…Most Nevadans understand that we can uphold the Second Amendment rights of Nevada’s many responsible gun owners and do all we can to prevent those who should not have access to firearms from exploiting the background check loophole and putting our families in danger. ” Gov. Steve Sisolak said at the hearing, according to KOLO8.
Senator Kelvin Atkinson, a primary sponsor of the bill, shared the stories of a 14-year-old and a mother of two, according to the Nevada Independent. The murders might have been prevented, said Atkinson, through a background check law such as SB 143 because the guns were purchased through private sellers.
The Nevada Senate passed the bill on Wednesday, Feb. 13, on a vote of 13-8.
Senate Bill 143 is not the first time Nevada has discussed requiring background checks on gun purchases.
In 2013, Senate Bill 221 was passed by the state legislature. The bill would have required courts to transfer records of adjudication regarding mental health to the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History within five business days and would have limited who could buy and sell a firearm.
Governor Sandoval vetoed the bill in June 2013. In his veto message, he said, “…the provisions of Senate Bill 221 pertaining to background checks for the private sale and transfer of firearms constitute an erosion of Nevadans’ Second Amendment rights.”
Background checks again came into discussion in 2016, this time on the ballot as Question 1. The measure required that a firearm can only be transferred or sold to a person once they have undergone a federal background check via a federally-licensed dealer. The background checks would be ran by the FBI through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The measure passed by a margin of less than 10,000 votes and was only approved in Clark County, according to the Associated Press.
However, the FBI refused to run the background checks.
In a letter to General Service Division Administrator for the Nevada Department of Public Safety Julie Butler, the FBI employee said, “The position of the NICS Section is that these background checks are the responsibility of the state of Nevada to be conducted as any other background check for firearms, through the Nevada DPS as the POC.”
Under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, federally licensed firearm dealers are required to have the FBI run a background check on anyone wanting to buy a firearm through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
Nevada is one of twelve states that act as a Point of Contact (POC) for all firearms transactions. This means the state runs the background checks through NICS and Nevada’s own records, the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History, rather than the FBI. Because of its status as a POC, the FBI refused to run the background checks.
Former Attorney General Adam Laxalt issued an opinion in December 2016. Because the FBI refused to run the background checks, the act had become a “total ban” on the private sale or transfer of firearms, he said.
Laxalt excused compliance with the bill in his opinion.
Mark Ferrario, an attorney representing Nevadans for Background Checks, filed a petition for Writ of Mandamus in October 2017 against then Governor Sandoval and Attorney General Laxalt. The lawsuit was denied by Judge Joe Hardy in August of 2018. The plaintiffs appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court in September. Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford is currently working towards a settlement with the plaintiffs.
The bill will go into effect on Jan. 2, 2020.
Taylor Avery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.