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July 6, 2015

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Bill to expand background checks for gun purchases passes Nevada Senate

In a party line vote following an emotional floor debate, the Nevada Senate today passed a measure that would expand background check requirements to private party firearm sales.

Senators on both sides of the issue recounted stories of family members killed by a gun as they argued the merits of closing the background check loophole. A cadre of survivors and family members of victims in the recent spate of mass shootings from around the country sat in the Senate gallery to witness the vote.

"My dad was my best friend," Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, said, remembering the morning in 1990 when his mother called to tell him his father had been murdered. "I’ll never fotget that day. It was 5:06 in the morning."

He then voted in favor of Senate Bill 221, which would require private parties to go to a federally licensed gun dealer to run a background check before conducting their gun sales.

But Atkinson isn't the only senator whose father died from a gun shot.

His voice going soft with emotion, Sen. James Settelmeyer, a rancher and a conservative Republican, acknowledged his father, too, was killed by a gun.

"My dad did die at the hand of a gun, but I don’t blame the gun," he said prior to voting against the measure.

All 11 Democrats voted in favor of the bill, while all 10 Republicans opposed it.

Before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, had sought to amend the bill to eliminate the background check requirement. Instead, he wanted a law that would encourage voluntary background checks by waiving the state fee for such checks and providing immunity from liability for those who conducted a background check prior to selling a gun. Roberson's bill also would have created a legislative study on the issue and would have made straw purchases illegal under state law.

Federal law already prohibits an individual from buying a gun for someone who wouldn't be eligible to own it.

The amendment failed in a party line vote.

Republicans called the bill over broad and an infringement on 2nd Amendment rights, worrying that the government would be given too much information on firearms owned by Nevadans.

"The government has no business knowing what guns you own," said Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas. "We can’t keep the federal government and state government out of our personal lives and our tax records. This concerns me that we would give the government more and more information about our gun purchases."

But Democrats, harkening back to the harrowing mass shootings in Tucson, AZ; Newtown, CT; and even the mass shooting that killed three national guard members at an IHOP in Carson City, argued the bill did not infringe on gun owners rights.

"This doesn’t hurt us," said Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, who comes from a family of avid hunters and owns a variety of guns. "This is not about hurting anyone’s rights. This is about an attempt to keep guns out of the wrong hands."

The bill now heads to the Assembly.

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