Firearms and Nevada: Being Responsibly Irresponsible

GunsThe Reno Gazette Journal weighs in on the Conklin Matter, that would be the sale of a firearm to a mentally ill 19 year old by an on duty Reno, NV police officer.  Deftly positioning its editorial position so as not to offend the irascible gun enthusiasts, the Journal argues that the “real” problem with the incident was that the officer (1) should have known better, and (2) should have completed the sale on her own time.  The illustrative example of precisely why SB 221 should have been signed into law is summarily dismissed as being “one take” on the issue.  Yes, the officer should have given more than a few seconds thought to why someone would want to purchase a firearm at 4:00 AM, and yes she should not have been conducting personal business on company time.

However, the transaction should never have taken place at all.  We should have plugged the loophole in NRS 202.254, a law stating that a private seller MAY request a background check.   There’s a whopping difference between “may” and “shall,” and in this instance the transaction would have been illegal but for that one single word.

The transaction was patently illegal under the terms of NRS 202.362, wherein sales of firearms to felons, fugitives, undocumented persons, and the mentally ill.  However, there’s some tricky language in this portion of the statutes as well.

NRS 202.362 Sale or disposal of firearm or ammunition to certain persons prohibited; penalty; exceptions.1.Except as otherwise provided in subsection 3, a person within this State shall not sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to another person if he or she has actual knowledge that the other person:
(a) Is under indictment for, or has been convicted of, a felony in this or any other state, or in any political subdivision thereof, or of a felony in violation of the laws of the United States of America, unless the other person has received a pardon and the pardon does not restrict his or her right to bear arms; (b) Is a fugitive from justice; (c)Has been adjudicated as mentally ill or has been committed to any mental health facility; or (d) Is illegally or unlawfully in the United States.  (emphasis added)

The underlined portion of the law appears to indicate a Blissful Ignorance Defense.  If I do not KNOW a buyer is a felon, a fugitive, a person in this country illegally, or if the person is suffering from a severe mental illness, then the transaction is AOK from my end of the bargain.   Is the seller to be excused because the “Gee, I Didn’t Know Defense” applies?

Better still, since the veto of SB 221, the state of Nevada won’t require a seller to conduct even a cursory background check.  Thus, if I wish to transfer ownership of a firearm all I would have to do is not ask too many questions, and I would be absolved of all culpability?  And, NRS 202.254 only asks politely if I may want to request a background check.  Now, why would I want to do that if by not submitting the name of the potential buyer to any examination I can continue my Blissful Ignorance Defense?

Golly Gee Whiz…how was I to know my buyer was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List? On a list of individuals who are under guardianship because of serious mental health issues?  On a list of people who have restraining orders against them for domestic abuse and violence?  On a list of felons convicted of assaults, batteries, and murders?

What we have in this State is a situation in which sellers are protected from any and nearly all accountability for the firearms transactions they conduct.   What we need is a situation in which citizens are protected from the least judicious sellers, and the potential civic irresponsibility of their actions.

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