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Ballot question closing background check loophole passes in Nevada

Updated Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016 | 1:35 a.m.

Nevada has joined 18 other states in closing a loophole that allows gun buyers to avoid background checks in purchases from private individuals at gun shows, through connections made on the internet and elsewhere.

In unofficial results from statewide voting, Question 1 was narrowly approved by Nevada voters. The measure makes private transactions subject to the same legal requirement as purchases involving licensed dealers, for which federal background checks are necessary.

“When we started this campaign more than a year ago, we knew it would be tough, but we also knew that the majority of Nevadans were with us. And this election was proof of that," said Yes on 1 Campaign Co-Chair Jan Jones Blackhurst, a Caesars Entertainment executive and former Las Vegas mayor. "We have shown that Nevadans will use their votes to make their communities and the entire state safer,”

The question was the subject of intense campaigning for months, with the NRA and other gun-control opponents characterizing it as an assault on Second Amendment rights and proponents positioning it as a common-sense way to reduce gun violence.

The measure drew a coalition of supporters that included Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, Henderson and Reno mayors Andy Hafen and Hillary Schieve, respectively, the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers and even some NRA members. The Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, an organization supported by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, supported the measure.

“Across the state, voters showed that they are committed to doing everything they can to prevent gun violence while respecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners," Wolfson said. "We are closing Nevada’s background check loophole, and we will be safer because of it. Nevadans voted for gun sense this year, and that’s truly a testament to the hard work and dedication of the coalition that supported Question 1."

Supporters keyed on domestic violence throughout the campaign, pointing out that Nevada’s domestic homicide rate by firearm was 65 percent higher than the national average. In states that had already closed the loophole, they stressed, there were significantly fewer slayings by firearm of women by their domestic partners, fewer shootings of law enforcement officers and less firearms trafficking.

Among the cases highlighted by proponents included the May 2016 slaying of Christina Franklin, whose ex-boyfriend shot her and her two children outside a North Las Vegas day care center before killing himself. The man, Travis Spitler, was legally barred from having a gun due to an open domestic violence case in Arizona and a domestic protective order that had been filed against him, but had lied about his background from a private dealer in order to get the gun he used to kill Franklin and wound her children.

Proponents contended that although expanding background checks wouldn’t stop all criminals from getting weapons, it would save lives by throwing up a hurdle that would keep some guns from falling into the wrong hands.

The measure drew support in urban Clark County but heavy opposition in Nevada’s heavily libertarian rural areas. Clark County was the only county in which the measure passed.

Notably, all but one Nevada sheriff opposed the question, with Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo staying neutral on it. In addition, Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt opposed Question 1, with Laxalt being particularly vocal and visible on the issue by appearing in commercials from opponents.

Critics contended the measure was a step toward more restrictive gun-control measures and that it would be ineffective in curbing illegal gun possession, as criminals would still be able to obtain weapons on the black market or through straw buyers.

Also in contention were exceptions for transfers or sales between close relatives, at established shooting ranges and gun competitions, and in instances when the recipient was in danger. Opponents contended the exceptions were restrictive and would criminalize actions by responsible gun owners, such as a ranch owner giving employees guns to kill predators or an armed services member giving a friend weapons for safe-keeping during a deployment.

But supporters argued that background checks through licensed dealers had blocked thousands of purchases in Nevada, meaning they would have a similar effect on purchases from private sellers.

They also contended the exceptions allowed responsible gun owners to sell or transfer their weapons in a broad range of circumstances. Gun owners who supported the measure contended that transferring or selling a gun in a situation that wasn’t covered by the exceptions would be a minor inconvenience. Most Nevadans live near licensed dealers who can perform checks, they said, and most checks can be completed in minutes.

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