Guns, Nevada, and The Law – Does SB 221 Matter?

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]


* For those who want more information on correlations, see here and here.


Filed under Gun Issues

6 responses to “Guns, Nevada, and The Law – Does SB 221 Matter?

  1. Frankly, I don’t care HOW MANY guns any one person has. What I care about is HOW those guns are used and secured when not being lawfully used. If a gun is left unsecured and some child picks up that gun and harms or kills another human being, well then, that’s another matter. In that case, I vehemently believe that shooting would NOT be “ACCIDENTAL” as a reasonable person would have anticipated that leaving a deadly weapon unsecured could result in such an action. Thus, the owner of the gun or guns used in the commission of such a CRIME (notice I did NOT say accidental shooting) should be held accountable, tried and sentenced for depraved indifference manslaughter for the maximum allowable length of time. Oh, and if you feel the need, you can throw in aiding and abetting the commission of a crime while you’re at it. End of subject.

    • California has a Safe Storage law which I think NV ought to take a look at. The Sparks Middle School young shooter took the gun from home — from parents who swore they didn’t think the child could find it. I’ve heard that all too many times … “We thought it was hidden.” You’ve also touched on another element which could make the statutory matrix stronger — how we account for so-called “accidental” shootings. IMO there ought to be a more standard format for accounting for child deaths in the home caused by firearms. I agree, when a kid finds an unsecured weapon there’s no such thing as an “accident.”

  2. DB, it seems I only write when I disagree with you — about 2% of the time I have been reading you. But I am really worried about anyone who gives the ‘run a check up and keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill’ credibility without thinking it through more than it seems you have done.

    Of course thide makes sense in theory, but there are those annoying practical details. Define mentally ill, for example. And given the wide range of mental illnesses, demonstrate how we divide them between those that would disqualify a person and those that are ‘harmless’ in this context.

    Now tell me how you investigate this applicant to see if he is, in fact, mentally ill — presuming he has never been involuntarily committed. We can’t establish a registry of patients attending psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychotherapists without throwing privacy laws out the window. Even if we could, we’d still have to check with the therapist to see if the patient had a ‘dangerous’ mental illness. (And how do you decide how much credibility to give a therapist, given the fact that there are still those who consider gayness a mental illness, or who have other fundamentalist Christian beliefs that would skew their judgments. (Or other types of nuttiness. I know a couple of New Age therapists whose judgment might be even worse than the standard ‘theoprastic’ practitioner.)

    And, for many of us, in discussing the subject, certain insane, ugly, or hateful religious, political, or racial ideas would be obvious examples of ‘mental illness’ and in some cases the only examples discoverable in an ordinary background check. Yet these opinions are — and should be — protected by law. (And don’t forget, we aren’t likely to be the ones appointed to determine the relevance of the background check. The ones that are, in many locations, would be more likely to share the opinions that scare us, and to consider, for example, my atheism to be as strong a disqualifying point as someone else’s birtherism, racism, or belief in bringing about the immanent End Times — many of which would appear to be perfectly sane to the sort of person likely to apply for the job.)

    If there is a way around these problems — and others — it might lie in a return to the attitude of NY during the Sullivan Law Era — that the default position is “No!” and that you do not get a license until you prove a need for having a gun and provide your own witnesses — challengeable, for example, by the police or a therapist, or a coalition of neighbors.– that you can be trusted to have one. But that is not, currently practicable.

    (One other law might be useful though, and that is a requirement similar to that with automobiles that all transfers must be registered at a central location and that the last registered owner — whether it be an individual, a dealer, or even a manufacturer if no ‘paper trail’ can be established after the gun was made even to a wholesaler — is responsible for whatever is done with the gun unless he can prove it was obtained without his knowledge or consent and despite precautions having been taken.)

    • The issue of mental illness gets a bit close– someone close had a breakdown from which the recovery has not been complete. Under the statutes in the state in which the person is a resident, that individual could walk into any gun dealer’s shop and purchase any firearm desired. This would be “unsafe at any speed.” For anyone. I’d think that treatment for suicidal ideation and auditory hallucinations (of the violent variety) would be cause to allow family to ask for at least a temporary confiscation, or order to restrain sales. But, I do take seriously the issues revolving around how to allow the mentally ill to retain their Constitutional and all Civil rights, while still providing for their safety and the safety of others. Thanks for the comments! 🙂

  3. Sorry to continue on — and for examining the personal too closely — but, if ‘somebody close’ was not involuntarily committed, how could a gun dealer know they were troubled.

    It is possible they would seem so disturbed that a responsible seller would refuse to sell to them, but I don’t see how another dealer –lacking a paper trail — could be penalized, under most even reasonable gun laws, if he chose to make the sale. (What a case! “Would the hypothetical ‘reasonable man’ have so certainly acted to refuse the sale that this person, who made the sale, should be punished?)

    Involuntary commitment would [provide at least a rebuttable presumption that the person is ‘a danger to himself or others’ and would and should be grounds for prohibiting sales, but without that, I see no way of doing this.

    I hope you realize that I am arguing for much more restrictive gun laws — more restrictive than the current Court would permit, but courts change personnel. I just feel that the ‘mentally ill argument’ can be a distraction from this, that anti-restrictionists will insist we ‘solve that problem’ first.

    • The individual under discussion was once involuntary committed for treatment, but the gun possession statute in the state sets a time limit. Long passed. The key issue as I think you correctly note is the lack of a paper trail. And, here we go into really sticky territory. There’s cured, there’s stable, and then there’s on-going treatment. I’m toying with the concept of Family First. That is, if a member of the family can present credible evidence to a court demonstrating a person has suicidal ideation, or is undergoing treatment for an acute or even a chronic illness which includes among the presentation of symptoms a propensity for violence, then perhaps a temporary restraining order preventing firearms sale could be justified?