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May 25, 2019

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Analysis: Laxalt a focus of criticism at March for Our Lives event

March for Our Lives Road to Change

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.

March for Our Lives Road to Change

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If the March for Our Lives message resonates in Nevada this fall, the state’s failure to implement universal background checks on gun purchases could cost Adam Laxalt dearly in his candidacy for governor.

That became clear Monday during a town hall meeting organized by the gun-safety advocacy organization, in which survivors of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting and other speakers singled out Laxalt for criticism over the stalled background check measure, which was approved by voters in 2016.

“He says the FBI won’t (conduct the checks). That is complete and utter (expletive), and it’s time that we fix this,” said prominent Parkland activist David Hogg, drawing cheers from the crowd at Sierra Vista High School.

The event was part of March for Our Lives’ Road to Change tour, which featured speakers from Parkland, Las Vegas and elsewhere calling for legislation to stop the proliferation of guns and curb the nation’s epidemic of gun violence.

Laxalt, Nevada’s attorney general and the winner of the Republican primary for governor, issued an opinion days before the law was scheduled to go into effect saying it was unenforceable. He based the opinion on a letter from the FBI saying federal officials would not assume responsibility for handling the checks.

But Laxalt’s opinion prompted a lawsuit from supporters of the law, who claimed he and Gov. Brian Sandoval had failed to press hard enough with federal authorities to make the measure work.

Nevada attorney general candidate Aaron Ford, who attended the event, said state officials should “begin from a position of ‘yes’” and work to carry out the will of the people on the initiative.

“I think there are alternatives that have not been considered, one of which includes a lawsuit to force the federal government to do its administrative duty in this instance,” Ford said.

The event came as activists on both sides of the gun issue awaited resolution of the lawsuit. The suit centers on a requirement for federal officials to conduct the expanded checks, which are to apply to transactions not involving licensed gun dealers. Sales involving dealers must undergo a background check by state officials under current law, but the measure was designed to close a loophole that allowed sales between non-licensed individuals at gun shows or via the internet to go unchecked.

The plaintiffs argue that other states have so-called “hybrid” systems in which the responsibility for checks is split between federal and state authorities. They say Laxalt and Sandoval had failed to carry out their official duties by not working more urgently and aggressively on implementation.

Attorneys for the state contend that the FBI has told state officials repeatedly that it would not take on the new checks.

In a June 5 hearing before Clark County District Judge Joe Hardy Jr., both sides accused the other of politicizing the case, with supporters pointing out that Laxalt campaigned against the ballot question in 2016 and Sandoval vetoed a bill in 2013 calling for expanded background checks. An attorney for the state countered by telling Hardy that the plaintiffs were “using your court” for a “political path for litigation.”

Hardy has yet to issue a ruling.

Meanwhile, the measure is expected to be a key issue in the upcoming gubernatorial election between Laxalt, the Republican candidate, and Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, the Democrat.

Sisolak’s platform on gun safety includes enforcement of the ballot measure and banning military-style assault weapons, bump stocks and high-capacity magazines.

The law also figures to be a key issue in the race between Ford and Republican Wes Duncan, a member of Laxalt’s staff.

Ford said he would make it a priority to get the expanded checks working.

“I think the attorney general should be working with whomever he can, whether that’s the governor, the Legislature, federal government, to ensure the will of the people is implemented,” he said.

Sandoval, for his part, has said he believed the issue could be resolved by the Legislature in 2019.

He and Laxalt have held separate discussions on school safety in recent months, including a March roundtable in which Laxalt met with educators and law enforcement officials.

But Laxalt’s meeting also drew criticism during Monday’s event, with Las Vegas advocate Karl Catarata calling out the attorney general for not inviting students to the table and challenging him to get their input.

“If you don’t listen to young people, we’re going to vote you out,” Catarata said later, leading a cheer of “Vote you out!”