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August 24, 2019

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Too bad, NRA: Even some of your members want to close background check loophole


Steve Marcus

Guns are displayed at the Sig Sauer booth during the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade) Show on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, at Sands Expo.

When you see a political ad that opens with a burly guy cleaning a pistol with a rack of rifles in the background, you’d be excused if you braced yourself for yet another blast of NRA paranoia.

The Second Amendment is under fire! Don’t let the government infringe on your rights by _________ (fill in the blank with any action aimed at reducing gun violence, regardless of how pragmatic it might be.)

We’ve heard the NRA’s over-the-top rhetoric for years, and the result has been a nation that’s choked with firearms — 300 million-plus, by many estimates — and far too many leaders who are so terrified of the gun lobby that they automatically reject any attempt at gun control.

That’s why a recent ad featuring Nevada gun owner Paul Larsen — the burly guy wiping down the gun — is a breath of fresh air.

In the ad, Larsen expresses support for the upcoming ballot Question 1 to expand background checks for firearms sales in Nevada.

Larsen, an NRA member, walks through a measured, logical argument in favor of the initiative, which would close a loophole that allows people to avoid background checks when buying from private sellers at gun shows, the internet and elsewhere. Currently, checks are required only for purchases and transfers involving licensed dealers.

“Do I believe good, law-abiding citizens have a right to bear arms? You bet,” Larsen says in the ad. “And with that right comes responsibilities. Do I believe convicted felons have that same right? No. But right now, criminals can easily get guns at gun shows or online from strangers with no background check.”

Larsen concludes that “letting criminals walk into a gun show and walk out with a gun, no questions asked — that’s a threat to all of us.”

He’s right, which is why it’s time for Nevada to establish universal background checks.

Without them, people who are barred by law from having guns — felons, domestic-violence offenders and individuals suffering from mental illness — have an easy way to steer around background-check requirements and get firearms.

Closing the loophole isn’t a magic solution, because people who want guns will still be able to get them through black-market sources or straw buyers. But it will put up an extra hurdle. And as proponents note, if that saves even one life, then the initiative is worth passing.

Those who are fighting the measure would have you believe otherwise, saying expanded background checks would have no effect on gun violence while criminalizing actions that are currently legal.

Those are weak arguments.

Regarding the potential effect on violence, a couple of numbers speak for themselves. The first is Nevada’s domestic violence homicide rate by firearm, which is 65 percent higher than the national average. The second is the rate of fatal domestic shootings in the 18 states where expanded background checks have been adopted, which is 46 percent less than Nevada’s. Also in those states, there are 48 percent fewer police officers fatally shot in the line of duty and 48 percent less gun trafficking.

Plus, there’s no question that background checks have been successful in blocking illegal purchases. In Nevada, the existing requirements have prevented 5,300 purchases, including more than 2,000 to fugitives and 1,200 to felons.

As far as criminalizing actions of law-abiding gun owners, don’t forget that the ballot question contains a number of exemptions that allow transfers and sales of firearms between nonlicensed individuals. Among them, immediate family members can sell or give guns to each other, and sales or transfers can be made during activities like hunting and shooting competitions. Plus, as long as the weapon stays in the owner’s near proximity, a temporary transfer is legal. In other words, it’s still perfectly fine for someone to let another person shoot his or her gun as long as the two are together.

True, the initiative would apply to someone handing over firearms to another person for safekeeping during a long trip, or giving a gun to a buddy long term.

But the restrictions aren’t nearly as draconian as the opponents would suggest. And besides, our society has often criminalized what was once legal behavior in the name of improving public health and safety. It used to be legal to put children to work in mines and factories, for example, until we came to our senses.

So Larsen and another gun owner who appeared in a similar ad, Dan Sabaka, of Las Vegas, deserve a hand for standing up on the issue and helping lead Nevada in the right direction. No doubt, they’ll face backlash from other gun owners, so appearing in the ad took courage.

It’s refreshing to know that despite all of the NRA’s efforts, responsible gun owners like Larsen and Sabaka are still willing to support common-sense efforts to reduce gun violence.

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