In the wake of the shooting of two police officers and an innocent civilian in Las Vegas, several voices have questioned the veto of Nevada’s SB 221 — does this matter?
On June 13, 2013 Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval vetoed SB 221, (pdf) a bill to improve the background check process for gun sales in the state. Passage of the bill was a close thing in the State Senate, the May 22 vote was 11-10. The Assembly voted on SB 221 June 3rd, and the bill passed 23-19.
“No” votes were cast in the state Senate by Brower, Cegavske, Pete Goicoechea, Donald Gustavson, Scott Hammond, Joseph Hardy, Mark Hutchison, Ben Kieckhefer, Michael Roberson, and James Settelmeyer, [Senate vote]
Members of the state Assembly who cast “no” votes were: Paul Anderson, Richard Carrillo. Skip Daly, Wesley Duncan, John Ellison, Michele Fiore, Tom Grady, John Hambrick, Ira Hansen, Cresent Hardy, Pat Hickey, Randy Kirner, Peter Livermore, James Ohrenschall, James Oscarson, Michael Sprinkle, Lynn Stewart, Jim Wheeler, and Melissa Woodbury.
Opponents of the measure generally clung to arguments about “freedom,” and the inviolability of the 2nd Amendment. Questions were raised about whether the law would “address” the problem directly, and would this have been at the expense of responsible gun owners and dealers.
Would the provisions of SB 221 if implemented have prevented the tragic loss of two Las Vegas law enforcement officer and a perfectly innocent civilian? IT DOESN’T MATTER. Here’s why:
## It’s a logical and policy mistake to attempt to link the reduction of gun violence in this state, or in this nation, to any one piece of legislation pertaining to any one incident. As long as proponents of gun proliferation man the barricades of the single instance/single solution battlements nothing will be done. If the standard by which a bill is judged is whether or not it would have prevented a single instance of gun violence then the answer will invariably be negative. Why? Because no legislation is intrinsically capable of addressing all the nuances of its application — that’s why we have lawyers and judges. The “standard” proposition is a red herring, not a logical argument.
Senator Hardy said his opposition was based on the proposition that the bill didn’t address the acute psychotic shooter and we can’t predict when such an individual might snap. In short, if the bill didn’t pass the “Single Incident/Single Solution Test,” it was unworthy of his support. [SenTest pdf]
## Continuing to conceive of gun violence incidents in terms of causality is to occupy the ethereal without addressing the reality. If we start looking for what was the proximate cause of the shooting in Las Vegas we will be binding ourselves to the tree while avoiding a discussion of how the forest became polluted. We know the proximate cause already — two addled idiots armed with lethal weapons shot and killed two police officers and an innocent civilian. The word we need to adopt is correlation, a word which often doesn’t go down well with purists and ideologues who want certainty. Good luck with that. Why is the differentiation between causality and correlation important? There’s a study for that from the American Journal of Medicine..
“It should be noted that the study couldn’t tie guns to gun deaths in terms of causation but the correlation of civilian gun ownership and gun deaths is not deniable. Also of note, the study showed that mental illness does also seem to correlate with gun deaths, but the correlation isn’t nearly as high as simple gun ownership.”
What do we know? There is a high correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths, and we know that there’s a correlation — just not as high — for mental illness and gun deaths. *
## The potential efficacy of SB 221, as with all other legislation, is also connected to the statutory matrix in which it is placed. For example, the enaction of legislation mandating comprehensive background checks is moot if funding isn’t appropriated for its implementation. Or, what would be comprehensive about background checks if there were no ‘backgrounds’ which would exclude a person from firearms ownership?
Do we toss up our hands and say that because we couldn’t get final adoption of a comprehensive background check bill out of Carson City this necessarily means there is nothing we can do? Of course not, that would be to adopt the same flawed logic of the opponents of gun safety legislation, “if we couldn’t get that done we can’t do anything.”
The passage and adoption of SB 211 would matter IF it were a piece of a larger, more comprehensive, perspective on gun violence in the state of Nevada.
What Does Matter?
First, let’s unload the weighty sacks of rhetorical rubbish which require perfect solutions to problems created by imperfect people. There is agreement that current Nevada law restricting arms sales to felons, fugitives, undocumented aliens, juveniles without parental supervision, and the mentally ill. If we are in agreement about this level of restraint, then SB 221 would have made perfect sense — we check the backgrounds in all gun sales to exclude the people we already agree should not be buying firearms. Might this be inconvenient for some people? — perhaps. So what? Who wants to be identified as the person or business who sold the next deranged shooter the firearm?
Secondly, let’s admit that there are people who may temporarily have issues such that owning or possessing a firearm is not a good idea, for themselves or anyone else. We already allow the courts the authority to temporarily remove firearms from homes in which there has been serious and documented spousal abuse. We could, if we were serious about gun safety in this state, amend our statutory matrix to provide means by which the family of a potential suicide could be empowered to seek the removal of firearms from the person’s home. We could, again if we’re getting serious, allow law enforcement agencies to apply for temporary firearm removal from homes occupied by those who have “scared the Hell out of neighbors, friends, and family” because of their delusional rants, writings, or other forms of communication.
Third, we might also amend our statutory matrix to incorporate the limitation of ammunition capacity. There are two highly publicized instances (Tucson, Seattle) in which shooters were captured while trying to re-load. This element wouldn’t eliminate the tragedy altogether, but would mitigate the casualty level.
Fourth, during the Bush Administration sought and got a gun manufacturers shield law — after some victims and municipalities successfully brought litigation — in October 2005 Wayne LaPierre announced that the 2nd Amendment was is “in the best shape it’s been in decades…” [NYT] The gun manufacturers might have been in good shape, but local and state governments watching health and public safety budgets drained by gun violence certainly weren’t. This special shield law could be repealed to create a stronger legislative matrix for gun safety statutes.
Finally, the sad history of SB 221 matters if it convinces those who advocate for gun safety legislation that “nothing can be done” in the face of fanatical opposition from gun manufacturers. This is far from the truth, and far from the function of government to secure domestic tranquility. [NVconst]