Nevada governor signs gun background check law

(AP Photo/Ryan Tarinelli) Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak surrounded by lawmakers who supported gun control, signs legislation expanding background checks to private gun sales and transfers in Carson City, Nev., Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. Gov. Sisolak signed into law a measure closing a loophole that allows gun buyers to avoid background checks by going through unlicensed gun sellers. The bill came shortly after the state Assembly approved the measure.

Carson City, Nev. • Nevada’s governor on Friday signed into law a bill expanding background checks to private gun sales and transfers, taking advantage of a Democrat-controlled Legislature to approve the first gun-related bill to cross his desk.

Lawmakers say the bill is a fix to a 2016 gun background check measure that was narrowly approved by voters. Former Gov. Brian Sandoval and former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, both Republicans, opposed the law and said it could not be implemented because it required the FBI to conduct the checks.

Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat who took office last month, signed the legislation shortly after Assembly Democrats easily passed the measure. The legislation fulfills a campaign promise of his to address firearm background checks. He described the legislation as "long overdue."

"It has the power to save lives from guns and violence," he said Friday, surrounded by lawmakers who supported the measure.

The bill closes a loophole that allows gun buyers to avoid background checks by going through unlicensed gun sellers. Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson said the bill addresses an issue with the 2016 measure by allowing Nevada to conduct its own background checks.

Sisolak's signature rounds out a work week of fierce and emotional debate from gun violence survivors and opponents to the legislation.

Lawmakers heard hours of public comment on the legislation earlier this week before the Senate passed the bill on a party-line vote. Among those speaking in favor of the law were survivors of the 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival. The attack killed 58 people and left hundreds injured, becoming the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Gun reform advocates acknowledge the background check bill would not have stopped shooter Stephen Paddock from getting hold of his weapons, but instead tout the bill as an important step in preventing gun violence.

Opponents to the legislation voiced a myriad of arguments. They said the measure is not specific and would infringe on Second Amendment rights while failing to increase public safety. Some said criminals would find their way to a firearm anyway. Others argued the bill would disproportionally affect rural Nevadans.

The bill's signing comes the same week national attention shifted to the anniversary of a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. Before the vote, Democratic Assemblyman Howard Watts read the names of the 17 victims killed in the shooting on the chamber floor.

"Today we have a chance to honor their memory," he said. "Today we have a chance to get something done to address gun violence."

Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo, a Democrat, argued the bill is critical to saving lives. "The time for thoughts and prayers has passed," he said, urging lawmakers to support the legislation.

The legislation underscores a larger push for gun control from Democrats this legislative session, in which they have a supermajority in the Assembly and a majority in the state Senate.

Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, who survived the 2017 mass shooting, said she plans to include a ban on bump stocks in a larger bill that aims to prevent gun violence. Bump stocks were used by the shooter in the 2017 mass shooting to mimic the firing pace of an automatic weapon.

No Republicans in either chamber voted for the bill signed Friday. Republicans also accused Democrats of hurrying a flawed piece of legislation.

Speaking in opposition to the bill, Republican Assemblyman Glen Leavitt on Friday said Nevada residents "deserve better than a publicity stunt."

Minority Floor Leader Jim Wheeler said he hoped a bipartisan spirit would allow Republicans some input on controversial bills.

“When we brought forth ideas that would make the bill acceptable, we were told that they would not be entertained and it was turned down in a fully partisan fashion,” he said.