Friday, March 8, 2019 | 2 a.m.
The state Legislature has only been in session for a little more than a month, but it has already passed a significant piece of legislation—universal background checks on gun sales. The process, as expected, exposed the divide between Democrats and Republicans on how best to deal with the ongoing nationwide crisis with gun violence. The bill has raised some questions, though. Republicans bemoaned the speed with which it was pushed through and expressed many concerns about the definition of “transfer.” State Senators had questions. Assembly members had questions. You might have questions. Let’s answer them.
To whom can I transfer a gun?
If you’re OK with background checks, you can transfer a gun to anyone who passes one.
If you don’t want to deal with a check, though, the field narrows a bit. Permanent transfers of firearms are only available to immediate family members, which, in this case, means children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews “whether by whole or half blood, adoption, or step-relation.”
That means no in-laws, which Republican legislators brought up multiple times during the weeklong debate.
There are other scenarios in which transfers can be done without background checks. Executors of the estate of a person who has died can take ownership of the person’s guns during the administration of the estate. The sale or transfer of any gun to law enforcement is still fine. Antique firearms, defined in federal law as guns made before 1898 or unmodified replicas of such, can be transferred without a background check.
When will I need to get a background check?
If you transfer a gun to anyone not mentioned at left. Full stop.
To get these checks done, a transferor, together with the transferee, will need to visit a licensed gun dealer, who will perform the check for them.
The goal of the bill was to close what is commonly referred to as the “gun show loophole”—a kink in the law in which private gun sales don’t go through the same background check procedure as sales by licensed gun dealers.
The loophole as defined by the bill is larger than just gun shows, though. Want to sell a gun to a friend? Background check. Want to permanently give a gun to your hunting buddy? Background check. Want to trade a pistol to a person for a couch on Craigslist? Background check.
What about temporary transfers? How do those work?
Will this cost me anything?
Licensed gun dealers charge $25 per background check. The state has estimated that the fiscal impact will be zero if the number of private transfers stays close to what it has been in the past.
Brace yourselves, we're about to get specific. Temporary transfers are available in situations in which:
• A person is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm
• A person is shooting within an authorized shooting range
• A person is competing in a shooting competition
• A person is part of a public performance that uses firearms
• A person is hunting or trapping with all necessary permits and licenses
• The transferee is with the transferor
• None of these are applicable if the transferee cannot legally possess a firearm under state or federal law or if the transferor knows the transferee is planning to use the gun in a crime. That’s it.
Will background checks even work?
This one is difficult, considering definitions of “work” might vary. Let’s dig into some numbers.
If the criteria is stopping sales, then yes, background checks work.
If the criteria is stopping gun violence, the answer is more of a mixed bag. Background checks will not stop gun violence entirely (it’s hard to think of a law that would), and research is mixed on the effect that background checks have on gun violence.
On a federal level, the Brady Act, passed in 1993, requires background checks on all gun purchases from licensed dealers. Studies have shown that the law has stopped thousands of purchases from people flagged by the system, though it has not had a significant effect on murder rates.
Some state laws, however, have affected gun violence rates, according to a plethora of studies.
Missouri repealed a measure that required handgun owners to have a permit (and, therefore, a background check) in 2007. Homicide rates shot up by nearly 25 percent there in the next three years.
As reported by Politico, activist group Everytown for Gun Safety has released data showing that states with background check laws had significantly fewer deaths by gun suicides, women being shot by domestic partners and police killed on the job. These states generally had a 50 percent lower rate in each of those categories.
So, background checks seem to work somewhat, but they’re not a cure-all.
As of now, probably nothing major. Since the law won't go into effect for almost a year, it might be difficult to challenge in court until then.
Attorney General Aaron Ford said in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun that the concept of “ripeness”—namely, that before a challenge can be brought against something, it has to be in effect—could stall any legal action for a while. He said he’s expecting a court challenge on the issue.
The timeline isn’t certain—some steps could be taken earlier. But it seems safe to say that this battle will be borne out in the courts.
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.