Published Thursday, June 13, 2013 | 11:13 a.m.
Updated Thursday, June 13, 2013 | 11:53 a.m.
Gov. Brian Sandoval has vetoed a bill requiring background checks for gun sales between private parties, saying it “imposes unreasonable burdens and harsh penalties upon law-abiding Nevadans, while doing little to prevent criminals from unlawfully obtaining firearms.”
In his veto message, the governor said background checks would “constitute an erosion of Nevadans’ Second Amendment rights under the United States Constitution and may subject otherwise law-abiding citizens to criminal prosecution.”
The bill, SB-221, was pushed by its sponsor, Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, who has said he was not surprised by the governor’s promise to veto the bill. He said that if Congress does not require universal background checks, he will push his legislation again in the 2015 Legislature.
Although it was no secret that Sandoval was going to veto Jones' bill, the veto message sparked the ire of progressive groups that had lobbied for its passage.
Repeating an oft-cited result of a poll showing 86 percent of Nevadans favor background checks for private party gun sales, critics said Sandoval has made an unpopular decision.
"Clearly Gov. Sandoval is going against the will of the people," said Brian Fadie, executive director of ProgressNow Nevada, a group that favored the bill's passage. "He is standing with extremists who are mostly filled with paranoid fears of the government taking away their guns."
Along with local groups like ProgressNow Nevada, the national coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns has been spending money advocating for the bill. With New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at its helm, the group has pledged to spend money during elections against officials such as Sandoval who oppose legislation mandating private-party background checks for gun sales.
Likewise, Fadie said his group will try to make this an election issue for Sandoval.
"It’s going to be about holding Brian Sandoval accountable for this veto," he said. "This was a very popular measure that most people get."
Sandoval said the bill had a number of worthy elements, including prohibiting the possession of guns by anyone judged mentally ill. He also applauded a section that required courts to speed up reporting of mental health adjudications.
From June 6 through Wednesday, Sandoval's received 152,995 calls opposing the gun bill and 27,465 in favor.
In his message, Sandoval also quoted from a letter from the Nevada Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association that said mandatory background checks “on private sales place an unreasonable burden on law-abiding citizens, with the potential to make them criminals.”
“It would be unenforceable by law enforcement. It is our opinion this bill would do little to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals,” the letter stated.
Sandoval said the bill would have required a person wishing to sell a firearm to a family member request a background check through a federally licensed firearms dealer.
The bill “also introduces into Nevada law a change in the burden of proof associated with the prosecution of criminal action for the unlawful sale or disposal of a firearm,” Sandoval said.
Existing law requires “actual knowledge” by the seller that the buyer meets disqualifying conditions or is otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm. The proposed bill would have changed the burden of proof to “reasonable cause to believe,” potentially further exposing people to criminal prosecution.