SB 221: Governor Ready To Fire Away?

GunsSB 221 (pdf) passed as amended in the Nevada Assembly on a 23-19 vote, June 3, 2013.  The bill to expand background checks for private sales of firearms now faces a veto threat from Governor Sandoval.  [LVRJ]  On what grounds?

Perhaps we might speculate about the check list of NRA friendly mantras the Governor might incorporate into such a message?

___ 1. The bill will be an onerous burden on law abiding citizens who might otherwise be likely to purchase a firearm.   There are two problems with this argument. First, there’s the “onerous” standard, and secondly who’s a law abiding citizen?

Most background checks are quick and easy.  To say that the standard background check done by a licensed firearms dealer is “onerous” is tantamount to asserting that anything less than instant gratification is “onerous.”  Remember, we’re checking to see if a person is a felon, a fugitive, a minor, a dangerously mentally ill individual, or a person who has restrictions on purchases because of a history of spousal abuse.

The sorting out of who is eligible to purchase a firearm in Nevada takes us to the second problem with the contention: Who is a law abiding citizen?  If a law abiding citizen is one without any history of being a felon, is not now a fugitive, and is not adjudged a spousal abuser under current statutory terms, then he or she must be “law abiding.”  This definition pretty much includes anyone walking freely amongst us.  If so few are actually “restricted” by the legislation then how does the burden become “onerous?”

___ 2. The enaction of expanded background checks will not solve the epidemic of gun violence in this country.  The one size fits all test is impossible.

In fact, the one size fits all test is a semantic trap.  If the legislation is drafted broadly, so as to incorporate gun trafficking, high capacity ammunition devices of various kinds, assault style rifles, expanded background checks, and other language to reduce gun violence, then the opponents immediately declare a nefarious all out assault on 2nd Amendment FREEDOM.  If the legislation is drafted narrowly, to address single issues among the many facets of the gun violence problem, then by definition “it won’t work” because it is too circumscribed to “solve” the entire issue.

___ 3.  SB 221 is a stepping off point on the slippery slope to gun registration, which is a departure point for gun confiscation.  No.  There are no other rights specified in the U.S. Constitution’s first ten amendments which are unrestricted in any form.  The slippery slope argument is grounded in fear and cultivated by propaganda.  No rational advocate of curtailing gun violence is speaking of any route to confiscation, notwithstanding the hysterical hyperbole of the NRA.

___ 4. Prohibited buyers won’t submit to background checks.  That’s the point, as succinctly made by the author of this LTE in the Reno Gazette Journal.  If prohibited buyers can’t purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer because of background check requirements AND they can’t purchase one in a private sale covered by universal background checks then the likelihood that the individual who shouldn’t have a gun is restrained from getting hold of one is increased — and that’s the function of background checks.

Here’s what the bill actually does:

“AN ACT relating to public safety; requiring a court to transmit within 5 business days certain records of adjudication concerning a person’s mental health to the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History for certain purposes relating to the purchase or possession of a firearm; authorizing the inclusion, correction and removal of the information in such records in each appropriate database of the National Crime Information Center; requiring each agency of criminal justice to submit information relating to records of criminal history within 60 days after the date of the conviction; requiring certain persons to request a background check before transferring a firearm to another person under certain circumstances; prohibiting certain persons from having possession, custody or control of a firearm; prohibiting certain persons from selling a firearm under certain circumstances; revising the functions of the Division of Mental Health and Developmental Services of the Department of Health and Human Services; requiring a mental health professional to notify certain persons when a patient makes certain explicit threats of imminent serious physical harm or death; providing penalties; and providing other matters properly relating thereto.”

The bill addresses the reporting and updating of information from the judicial system and the mental health system such that dealers will have access to the best information about a buyer in as timely a manner as humanly possible.  The entire point of the measure is to assist legitimate law abiding gun dealers run background checks to sort out the felons, the fugitives, the seriously and dangerously mentally ill, and minors from procuring firearms.

Personally, I can’t think of a single firearms dealer who would even remotely want to sell a gun to a felon, a fugitive, a dangerously mentally ill individual, or a kid who’s shopping without parental permission.  I can’t imagine a licensed firearms dealer promoting his inventory to those who have histories of violent domestic abuse, or to a person intending suicide.

At this juncture in the argument we need to differentiate between “law abiding” and “responsible.”  To be law abiding one need only to have not broken any laws.  To be responsible requires more effort.

Who is responsible for Manuel Mata’s acquisition of a gun, a gun used to kill his girlfriend, her daughter, injure a 4 year old child, and then used to attempt suicide? [LVRJ]  Mr. Mata had a previous arrest.  Was it for a felony? Might his purchase have been more unlikely with expanded background checks in place?  Or, was the arrest for a misdemeanor charge, meaning that according to Nevada statutes he was still technically within the “law abiding” category?

We’d be far better off promoting the notion that being a responsible gun owner is preferred over merely being a law abiding one, and that those who are responsible citizens should be protected from the law abiding albeit irresponsible ones.   Governor Sandoval could promote this by signing SB 221 into law — time will tell if he has the political courage and moral fortitude to do so.

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