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September 18, 2014

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Nevada slow on the draw with gun legislation

Image

John Locher/Pool

Joseph Beck, center left, and Elizabeth Krmpotich speak during a memorial service for their brother Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Officer Alyn Beck at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts Saturday, June 14, 2014 in Las Vegas. Two suspects shot and killed Beck, 41, and fellow police officer Igor Soldo, 31, in an ambush at a Las Vegas restaurant Sunday, June 8, 2014, before fatally shooting a third person inside a nearby Wal-Mart, authorities said.

9th

Nevada’s ranking for gun deaths. The state average is 40 percent higher than the national average.

F

Nevada’s grade from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun control group. Even so, 17 states have looser gun laws. Arizona, Alaska and Wyoming have the loosest gun laws; California, Connecticut and New Jersey have the most strict gun laws.

98%

Percentage of the Nevada gun manufacturing market owned by pistol maker Jimenez Arms of Las Vegas.

1,891

Number of pistols seized by Nevada police in 2013.

21

Number of machine guns seized by Nevada police in 2013.

86%

Percentage of guns seized in Nevada in 2013 that were found in Las Vegas.

550

Number of guns bought in Nevada and later found at a crime scene in California.

59%

Percentage of guns used for crimes in Nevada and recovered out of state that are found in California.

Guns are emblazoned in Nevada’s heritage. The “Battle Born” credo waves on the flag. Hunting is a rite of passage. Gun-strapped cowboys burn in Las Vegas’ neon-lit parlors.

But the state’s gun lore became a little less romantic June 8 when Jerad and Amanda Miller shot and killed Metro Police Officers Igor Soldo and Alyn Beck, and armed bystander Joseph Wilcox, who tried to stop the couple.

Las Vegas is the newest battleground in the national debate about gun control and gun rights. But weeks after the shooting, there’s little momentum for reforms. One exception is a ballot initiative launched by gun control advocates aiming at the 2016 election.

Previous gun control efforts show how tough it is to pass reforms.

Last year, gun control advocates pushed similar reforms in Congress and the Nevada Legislature. In the wake of the Newtown shooting that left 20 first-graders dead, polls showed nine out of 10 Americans supported expanding background checks for most sales. With fierce opposition from the National Rifle Association, the reforms failed in the U.S. Senate.

In Nevada, a bill to expand background checks made it through the Democratic-controlled Legislature. It would have required background checks for private gun sales and restrictions on sales to the mentally ill. But Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed the bill.

“It was a gun registration bill,” Don Turner, president of the Nevada Firearms Coalition, said in opposition to the bill.

With the officer shooting fresh in the minds of Nevada politicians, will they consider a new round of reforms when the Legislature meets in January? Advocates on both sides say yes.

They expect both gun control and gun rights bills to receive serious consideration. Among them:

• Background checks: State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, co-sponsored the 2013 bill and said he expects the same bill to be introduced next session.

• Campus carry: Turner said Republicans are likely to propose a bill that allows students with a permit to carry firearms on college campuses.

• Stand your ground: Turner expects an attempt to revoke Nevada’s “stand your ground” law that gives citizens the right use lethal force if attacked.

Outside of the statehouse, gun control supporters will try to go straight to voters to restrict gun sales to the mentally ill. The Background Check Initiative is seeking signatures to qualify for the 2016 general election ballot.

No one knows the challenges of passing gun law reforms better than Sen. Harry Reid. Asked why Nevada has had such a hard time passing gun control laws, he said: “Same reason every other state has.”

His unspoken answer: The NRA and its political firepower.

Gun money and politics

The gun control debate is really about three letters: NRA. The National Rifle Association has combined the power of its money and members to influence almost every piece of legislation drafted.

Gun control groups have a fraction of the NRA’s resources. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is the best-funded gun control group, but even it has been overwhelmed by the NRA.

That could change, though, now that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he would pump $50 million into launching a campaign to rival the NRA.

Political spending

Gun rights groups made 213 contributions worth $140,307 to Nevada politicians between 1990 and 2014. Gun control groups made zero. Republicans collected 71 percent of the gun rights contributions; Democrats, 27 percent; and nonpartisan candidates, 2 percent.

Top recipients of gun money:

• Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval: $8,500

• Former Democratic Assembly Speaker Joe Dini: $6,250

• Democratic Sen. John Jay Lee: $5,500

• Republican Sen. Barbara K. Cegavske: $4,500

• Former Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn: $3,750

Tracing the Millers’ guns

It’s not clear yet how Jerad and Amanda Miller got their guns: a .38 Ruger handgun, a Smith & Wesson M&P 9 mm handgun and a Winchester 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun with pistol grip.

Metro detectives are working with the the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to trace the guns back to the place and person who gave them to the Millers. The ATF has a database that tracks guns used in crimes. The agency responds to more than 900 tracing requests from police officers a day.

As a convicted felon, Jerad Miller wasn’t allowed to legally own a gun. But felons often obtain guns on the black market through private sellers.

Where they stand

• Sen. Dean Heller: The Republican is ranked No. 2 in Congress for contributions received from gun rights groups between 2000 and 2013. Heller voted against stricter background checks and bans on assault weapons after the Newtown shooting. He said the political contributions reflect his unflinching support for the Second Amendment and don’t influence his votes on gun control. “I don’t look at it as powerful positions or powerful money by any means,” he said. “I think it’s purely an individual that wants to support a candidate that has a particular position.” Heller said he would consider supporting background checks if it came up again in the Senate.

• Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: Reid has been a gun man but that may be changing. He collected $30,200 from gun groups between 2000 and 2013, including $18,400 from the NRA. But the day after two Metro Police officers were shot, Reid signaled he’s shifting to support stricter gun laws through universal background checks.

• Gov. Brian Sandoval: The Republican vetoed a gun control bill in 2013 that would have expanded background checks. Among state politicians, Sandoval is the top recipient of campaign contributions from gun rights groups since 1990. He has received $8,500, a relatively small amount compared with donations made on other major issues.

Reporting by Ryan Frank, Amber Phillips, Kyle Roerink, Joe Schoenmann and Conor Shine

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