Las Vegas Sun

September 23, 2018

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EDITORIAL:

Laxalt’s reaction to court case shows lack of consideration for Nevadans

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Wade Vandervort

A woman shows her disapproval at the mention of Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt during the Road to Change gun control reform town hall at Sierra Vista High School, Monday, July 16, 2018.

Last week, a Clark County district judge issued a ruling that went against the wishes of the majority of Nevada’s residents.

So how did Adam Laxalt react? Did the Nevada attorney general express disappointment on behalf of those residents? Did Laxalt, the Republican candidate for governor, pledge to do whatever it took to ensure that the people got what they asked for?

Nope. He gloated. And so the matter at the heart of the ruling — the state law requiring universal background checks on firearm purchases — remains unimplemented 21 months after Nevada voters approved it.

That’s sad, unless you’re Laxalt. Then, the people’s loss is an opportunity to pat yourself on the back and issue a self-congratulatory statement.

“The court’s 22-page decision reaffirms what my office has been saying all along — that the act ‘is unenforceable as written,’ ” the statement said. “This is not because of anything that I or other Nevada officials have failed to do. … Rather, it is a result of Question 1’s flawed drafting. It is unfortunate that the very same people who imposed this defective law on all Nevadans have gone to such lengths to use its brokenness as a reason to politically attack me and other Nevada elected officials through litigation.”

Judge Joe Hardy Jr. indeed ruled that the court couldn’t compel the state to implement the law.

So be it, but the ruling didn’t erase the fact that Laxalt and Gov. Brian Sandoval barely lifted a finger in trying to implement it.

In fact, if Laxalt had worked toward implementation with a fraction of the effort his office poured into the lawsuit, maybe we would have gotten somewhere by now.

As is, it appears to be up to Nevada lawmakers to do the right thing by Nevada voters and either fashion a fix for the law or pass a new one during the 2019 legislative session.

When voters went to the polls in November 2016, they made it clear that it was time for the state to close a loophole that allowed some gun purchases to be made without a background check. Existing state law required checks for transactions involving licensed gun dealers, but not between nonlicensed individuals, meaning that purchases at gun shows and via internet connections weren’t subjected to vetting.

Not being experts in the structure of the background checks system, most voters were undoubtedly unaware that the law would require federal officials to conduct the expanded checks. They simply saw the ballot question as a common-sense measure to increase gun safety, and they passed it by a slim margin.

But then things fell apart. Or, more accurately, Laxalt and Sandoval let Nevadans down.

When the feds responded to the state’s cursory inquires about the law by saying they were not obligated to perform the checks, Laxalt and Sandoval were all too happy to drop the matter and move on.

Instead of demanding, haranguing, maybe even suing, they quickly demurred.

That was shameful, especially in Laxalt’s case. Laxalt had campaigned against the measure, and although he claimed his opposition was based on his argument that the question was legally flawed, that claim was tainted by the fact that Laxalt is tied into the National Rifle Association so tightly that he spoke at the organization’s leadership forum in 2017.

Not surprisingly, the NRA chimed in after Hardy’s ruling with a statement supporting Laxalt.

“The court affirmed what the NRA has said all along: The Question 1 debacle is unenforceable because it is poorly written and its demise has nothing to do with Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt or Gov. Brian Sandoval,” the statement read. “Both men were simply following the law, unlike the gun control activists who were, as the judge noted, motivated by ‘emotional appeals’ without ‘supporting evidence.’ ”

Motivated by emotion? Hardly. The voters’ decision to institute sensible gun laws was perfectly rational — a reasoned statement that society should work hard to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and prevent them from amassing arsenals to murder innocents.

To the extent that voters’ decision had an emotional element, that is little surprise. Any cursory review of the daily headlines demonstrates that Nevada and the nation are experiencing an epidemic of gun violence. And a little less than one year after the voters’ reasoned decision — and Laxalt and Sandoval’s shocking inaction — we became the site of the worst mass shooting in modern history. So Nevadans remain sensitive to the issue.

Sandoval, who vetoed a similar measure passed by the Legislature, at least has said that he believed the issue could be resolved by lawmakers.

In the aftermath of the ruling, it’s unclear where the issue might go from here.

But when voters go to the polls this November, they should remember how Laxalt reacted before, during and especially after the ruling.

This is a man who clearly views himself above the will of the people and imagines an imperial governorship in which he can ignore the voters at his discretion.