Emotional stories collided in the Nevada Senate chambers today, as that body approved SB143, a bill brought by Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson that will enact the background check ballot measure narrowly passed by voters in 2016.
The measure would fix the so-called background check loophole, which currently allows guns to be sold in private sales and at gun shows with no background check.
The bill fixes the flaws that Nevada courts have so far said prevents the ballot measure’s implementation – namely that background checks be administered by the FBI, a federal agency. The bill passed out of the Senate today mandates that background checks be done by the state Central Repository – which currently runs checks on licensed gun dealers.
An amendment to the bill, put forth by Senate Republicans, would have mandated the checks bye done by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It was defeated along party lines.
The final vote – 13-8 – was also along party lines, with all Senate Democrats vote yes, and all Senate Republicans voting no.
The bill now goes to the Assembly, likely tomorrow. The vote is also likely to be along party lines. Currently, 29 members of the Assembly are Democrats, and 13 are Republicans.
After the Assembly vote, the bill will go to Governor Sisolak’s desk. He is expected to sign it.
Despite the expected outcome, the debate over the bill went on for over two hours. This follows a nearly 9-hour joint Judiciary Committee hearing held yesterday to listen to testimony from people on both sides of the issue.
Republicans argued that the background check measure, as written, is too vague, and would not permit the transfer of firearms to in-laws or friends or employees.
Senator James Settelmeyer specifically noted that he would not be able to hand a rifle to a ranch hand without violating the law.
Democrats countered that – noting that the bill permits all of those things, and does not need to spell out specific cases.
“The plain and ordinary meaning of words is defined in the statute,” said Senator Nicole Cannizzaro, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill, Cannizzaro said, has an exemption for estate transfers, for imminent bodily harm, for workers and hunting buddies can have a rifle.
Settelmeyer also revealed to the Senate chamber that his father committed suicide by gun, but added that this measure would not have stopped that.
The idea that background checks wouldn’t stop all crimes was one that many opponents of the bill brought up in both the hearings and on the Senate floor.
Cannizzaro countered that, too.
“No piece of legislation is going to address every single contingency, and if you’re waiting for that, then you might as well resign.”
She also said the Legislature will look at bills dealing with mental health later in the session.
Senator Patricia Spearman shushed the room with a powerful speech about her two brothers, both of whom were murdered by people she says should not have owned a gun.
Senator Spearman also noted that she once owned a house with a pool – which came with insurance requirements that the pool be surrounded by a fence with an alarm. That, she said, is what the background check measure does – ensure that people who shouldn’t own guns have a barrier from getting them.
Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson brought up the murder of Gio Melton, who was killed by his father in 2017. “The last thing he heard his father say was that he would rather have a dead son than a gay son,” Atkinson told the assembled Senators. Melton’s father, Wendell, has orders of protection filed by his wife. A background check, Atkinson argued, might have stopped Wendell Melton from buying a gun.