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Sandoval pressured to reconsider threatened veto of gun bill

Updated Friday, May 31, 2013 | 7:38 p.m.

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and the husband of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords advocated Friday for a bill mandating background checks for private party gun sales.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval has said he will veto the bill, Senate Bill 221, which has support from Democrats in the state Legislature.

To sway the governor to reconsider his threatened veto, Mark Kelly talked about the shooting of his wife.

“Too often, gun safety and gun rights are pitted against each other, but the truth is this: the thing that we can do to promote responsible gun ownership and protect our Second Amendment rights is the same thing that will do the most to reduce gun violence in America, and that is keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them by providing background checks for most gun purchases,” Kelly said.

Masto for the first time publicly endorsed the background check bill and appeared with Kelly and the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, on the steps of the Legislature.

The state’s chief law enforcement officer testified with the sheriffs from Clark and Washoe counties standing in support nearby.

“I recognize this bill is a critical law enforcement tool that focuses on public safety,” Masto said. “The bill closes off a significant loophole that felons and other dangerous individuals use to avoid background checks and obtain guns, particularly at guns shows.”

Masto said she’s working with Jones to amend the bill in the last few days of the legislative session.

Jones said he hopes the forthcoming amendment will assuage concerns among opponents to the bill, including the governor.

Masto said the bill will not lead to a national “de facto gun registry,” which is one of the fears of the bill’s opponents.

“That should be the least of somebody’s concerns,” she said, noting that private and public entities already have vast amounts of personal information and data in electronic databases.

She said the background check provision would be the “least burdensome” step toward limiting the ability of criminals to easily purchase guns in Nevada.

Along with sponsoring the press conference on the steps of the Legislature, the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns has retained lobbyists. They also have brought family members of victims of gun violence to the Legislature to meet with legislators and lobby for passage of the bill.

The group sponsored largely by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has also poured money into an advertising and public relations campaign simultaneously urging the governor to sign the bill and criticizing Republican senators who voted against it earlier this month.

Meanwhile, the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association has yanked its earlier support for the bill “on further examination” of the measure from the state’s 15 rural county sheriffs, said Bob Roshak, lobbyist for the association.

At a committee hearing about the bill earlier this month, legislators went through the perfunctory motion of calling for neutral testimony, prompting laughter from an audience certain that nobody could be neutral on such a hot-button issue.

But Jones said the involvement of national figures isn’t about further driving a wedge between the already-polarized supporters and opponents of the bill.

“It brings attention to the issue, which gets people involved to call (legislators and the governor),” he said. “It gets the public engaged.”

Many Nevadans are already engaged -- against the bill.

A public commenting system on the Legislature’s website shows that 2,729 oppose the bill while 368 support it.

Supporters of this bill say only the vocal minority comment on the Legislature’s system. Instead, they point toa poll saying 86 percent of Nevadans support background checks for all gun purchases.

The recent pollasked this question: “Do you favor or oppose requiring all gun buyers to pass a criminal background check, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter whom they buy it from?”

The bill needs to a simple majority vote to pass the Assembly, which Democrats control, but the governor has the power to stop the legislation.

Democrats alone don’t have the two-thirds vote required to override his veto, and Republican legislators in the Senate already voted against the bill.

Still, Jones said the amendment he’s worked on with Masto could alleviate some concerns Republicans have.

He said the amendment includes using a Department of Motor Vehicles identification system to reduce the likelihood that someone prohibited from owning a gun could use a fake identification card to buy a gun.

His amendment would also add further exemptions from background checks to the 10 currently listed in the bill. Under the amendment, guns could be transferred without a background check to domestic partners and family members in the “third degree of consanguinity."

CORRECTION: The story has been updated to correct the spelling of Bob Roshak's name. | (May 31, 2013)

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