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May 12, 2021

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Why would gun control advocates see Nevada as a source of hope?

Connecticut School Shooting

Jessica Hill / AP

People gather during a ceremony on the six-month anniversary honoring the 20 children and six adults gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary school on Dec. 14, 2012, at Edmond Town Hall in Newtown, Conn., Friday, June 14, 2013. Newtown held a moment of silence Friday for the victims of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School at a remembrance event that doubled as a call to action on gun control, with the reading of names of thousands of victims of gun violence.

As a gun-loving state where Republicans have launched a wave of pro-firearm proposals since taking control of the Legislature in 2014, Nevada might seem like anything but a source of hope for supporters of tougher gun laws.

But gun control advocates say they're optimistic that Nevada could provide a turning point in the national gun-control debate, thanks to a 2016 ballot initiative that would expand background checks to all gun sales in the state. Advocates in Washington, D.C., are planning to aggressively organize in Nevada to help it pass, fueled by the belief that if change can come to this state, it can happen anywhere.

"Nevada is absolutely critical and a huge state for this movement," said Brian Malte, a senior policy director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

So far, Nevada is the only state with a background-check question on its ballot next year. Current Nevada law doesn't require FBI background checks for unlicensed firearm dealers at gun shows and private sales. Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed a Democratic bill to expand background checks in 2013, saying it restricted Nevadans' rights.

Gun-control advocates are relying more heavily on states to tighten gun laws in the absence of congressional action. Congress' last major foray into the gun debate came in April 2013, when a bipartisan bill to expand background checks failed to advance in the Senate by six votes.

There's much more action at the state level, which explains advocates' optimism for Nevada. Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in December 2012, five states have expanded background check laws. In November, nearly 60 percent of of Washington state voters approved expanding background checks to private sales. Oregon's legislature is considering a similar bill this year.

Nevada is next on the list, and advocates say a win in the political swing state could build momentum for stricter gun laws nationwide.

However, gun-control advocates will have to wait out a rough 2015 in Nevada before they can compete in 2016.

The Assembly recently held a hearing on a bill to allow people to have guns in secured containers while on public school and college property. More debate is expected on conceal and carry permits: Nine lawmakers have disclosed they'll be carrying concealed firearms during the session, and the state legislature expanded its concealed carry law in 2013 to allow gun owners to carry all types of handguns. The Legislature also is considering a bill that would protect kids who fashion pretend guns out of objects like Legos or Pop Tarts from getting in trouble at school.

Nevada Senate Democrats appear to be making gun control one of their top issues this session — Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, introduced a bill to prevent Nevadans convicted of domestic violence from legally owning guns, for instance — but their chances in the newly Republican Legislature are iffy at best.

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