State Senate takes up ghost gun ban
Photos from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives showing Nevada-based Polymer80 “ghost guns” being sold at a gun show. (Photos included in a March 2021 legislative presentation by Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.)
While there is a federal push to tackle the increasing use of ghost guns, Nevada Democratic lawmakers are also working to prohibit the untraceable guns statewide.
President Joe Biden announced in April several executive actions to combat gun violence, which he called an “epidemic and an international embarrassment,” he also called for a crackdown on ghost guns.
Democratic Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, who said she has made it her mission to crack down on gun violence since surviving the October 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip, sponsored Assembly Bill 286 to prohibit a person from possessing, purchasing or transporting “an unfinished frame or receiver,” which is described as a “a casting or a machined body that is intended to be turned into a frame or lower receiver of a firearm.”
“Ghost guns are growing in popularity because they circumvent background checks and they are untraceable,” Jauregui said during a hearing Tuesday. “These types of guns are manufactured in homes and sold online as kits that are then easily assembled. If they are used in a crime, law enforcement has no way to trace them because they do not have serial numbers.”
While both national and statewide efforts have been fiercely opposed by Republican lawmakers and gun lobby groups alike, Nevada’s Democratic control of both houses of the Legislature makes the bill’s advancement more likely.
Opponents argued Tuesday the legislation would strip gun owners of their rights. The bill doesn’t affect guns that are manufactured and have serial numbers.
“Given the nature of criminals and the scope of existing firearm restrictions, it is highly unlikely that AB 286 will do anything to keep weapons out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them,” said Dan Reid, the Western Regional Director of the NRA.
Jauregui countered that no law passed stops “every bad thing from happening.”
“The seatbelt requirement doesn’t stop people from dying in a car accident,” she said. “No drunk driving law stops all incidents of drunk driving. No dropout prevention bill keeps every kid in school. And a mask requirement doesn’t stop every single spread of Covid-19. The point in all these measures, including Assembly Bill 286, is that it will stop some incidents.”
In 2019, ghost guns accounted for 40 percent of firearms recovered by the Los Angeles Police Department and 30 percent of firearms recovered by ATF California.
Jauregui pointed to situations where people used ghost guns to conduct crimes, including two Los Angeles Police Officers who were ambushed and shot while sitting in their car last September. Both officers survived.
“In 2020, federal ATF agents raided a Nevada-based company, Polymer80, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of ghost guns,” Jauregui said. “Polymer80 was illegally manufacturing and distributing firearms, failing to pay taxes, shipping guns across state lines and not conducting background checks.”
The bill, if passed, would go into effect Jan. 1, 2022 in order to give owners of ghost guns a grace period to replace unauthorized parts or get rid of their guns altogether. The legislation also gives exceptions for antique guns for collectors.
The original version of the bill, which was supported by casino companies including MGM Resorts, would have allowed private business owners to prohibit firearms on their premises with the exceptions of law enforcement officers and those attending gun shows. The section was removed out of concerns of unintended consequences, prior to the bill’s party line passage in the Assembly.
Athar Haseebullah, the executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, submitted testimony in “neutral” Tuesday saying the organization was watching the bill closely in case the provision returns.
“That provision would have entrusted both casinos and law enforcement to simply be unbiased in enforcement,” he wrote. “That provision would have increased dangerous, and potentially deadly, interactions between civilians, especially people of color, and law enforcement. That provision also would have created a pipeline for law enforcement to engage in stop-and-frisk in a state that permits (concealed carry weapons).”
Several hours before Nevada lawmakers heard AB 286, there was also a U.S. hearing on ghost guns, which came days after the U.S. Department of Justice unveiled a proposed rule seeking to expand the definition of a firearm to include the assembly kits that have sidestepped federal regulations.
That DOJ rule would require gun retailers to run background checks before selling kits that contain parts to assemble a gun, and instruct gun kit makers and licensed firearms dealers to include a serial number on certain parts.
Between 2016 and 2020, more than 23,000 firearms without serial numbers were reported to have been recovered by law enforcement from potential crime scenes, according to DOJ officials. That tally includes weapons connected with 325 homicides or attempted homicides.
Members of the public have three months to submit comments to the ATF on the proposed federal rule altering policies around ghost guns.
The Nevada Senate took no action Tuesday. The bill has until Friday to pass out of committee.
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