Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a bill Friday to close a loophole that allows gun buyers to avoid background checks by going through unlicensed gun sellers.
Sisolak described the expanded gun background check bill as “a long-overdue, common-sense measure that will make Nevada safer and has the power to save lives from gun violence.” Democratic lawmakers fast-tracked the bill as a solution to the stalled background check ballot initiative approved by voters in November 2016, which passed statewide by a narrow 1 percent margin.
“The majority of Nevadans made it clear they wanted us to do more to address gun violence, but for 829 days since, they’ve been ignored,” said Sisolak as he signed the bill into law. “That finally changes today.”
The new law, SB143 or the Background Check Act, passed the Senate 13-8 on Wednesday. Senators voted along party lines, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans opposing. The state Assembly passed the bill midday Friday with a 28-13 vote that was nearly along party lines. One Democrat, Assemblyman Skip Daly, voted against the measure. (Republican Assemblyman John Hambrick was absent for the vote.)
Less than an hour after passing the Assembly, the bill was on the governor’s desk and signed.
The bill requires background checks on most private sales and transfers, except those between close family members such as spouses or siblings. There are some exceptions for law enforcement, antique guns, if a person is in immediate danger, and while hunting.
Supporters have tried twice to expand background checks in Nevada, once in 2013 through a similar bill vetoed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and another through the 2016 ballot initiative that stalled after the FBI refused to conduct the background checks.
“We are not the first Legislative body to try and pass this, but let us be the last,” Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo said in a speech on the assembly floor.
Once the measure takes effect on Jan. 2, private sales would need to happen in front of a licensed gun dealer who would run a state background check. Under the new law, violators would face a gross misdemeanor for a first offense, and a category C felony for a second or subsequent offense.
According to a fiscal note attached to the bill, the implementation of the law is not expected to result in any fiscal impact “should the volume of voluntary private party background checks remain consistent with the last year of cumulative totals.”
The bill faced intense opposition from gun rights supporters and sparked passionate debate, including an almost eight hour-long committee hearing Tuesday.
Republican lawmakers continued to argue the legislation in its current form could penalize gun transfers between otherwise law abiding citizens, with Assemblyman Jim Wheeler giving the example that he would no longer be able to lend a gun to his elderly neighbor for protection.
The passage of the bill marks a major victory for Democrats, many of who campaigned on “common-sense” gun laws after the Oct. 1 mass shooting, which left 58 dead and 527 wounded on Las Vegas Strip.
In a highly symbolic act, the vote came the day after the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which killed 17 people.
Attorney General Aaron Ford applauded the passage of the bill, stating in a release: “It is my hope that today will be remembered as a day of action, when Nevada chose to be a part of the solution to gun violence.”
In a statement to the Legislature on Tuesday, Ford said between 2012 and 2014 background checks from licensed gun dealers in Nevada blocked over 5,000 gun sales from “prohibited people” including fugitives, felons and domestic abusers.
Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson and Speaker Jason Frierson echoed Ford’s sentiments.
The former said in a statement: “Today, more than two years after Nevadans affirmed their support for comprehensive background checks, the will of the voters has finally been implemented.”
The latter said in a statement: “With the passage of (Senate Bill 143, The Background Check Act) our state will now be better equipped to keep guns out of the hands of felons, domestic abusers, and other dangerous individuals by closing loopholes.”