Amid legal battle, Sandoval asked FBI for help in implementing stalled gun background checks ballot question
Gov. Brian Sandoval spoke with the FBI and other federal officials last week requesting their reconsideration in helping the state implement a stalled gun background check ballot question, though no immediate solution is apparent.
In a letter sent Tuesday to White House official Justin Clark, Sandoval’s general counsel, Kathryn Reynolds, said it was “disappointing” that federal law enforcement agencies would not work to help implement the ballot question, which under the voter-approved law requires background checks on private guns sales and transfers to be conducted through the federal system rather than the state system.
“While I appreciate the time taken by both the White House and Department of Justice to research and discuss this issue, it was disappointing to hear that the FBI is unable to accommodate Governor Sandoval’s request,” she wrote in a letter obtained by The Nevada Independent. “It is helpful to clarify that the FBI does not recognize a ‘partial’ point of contact system on the basis of private party sales.”
News that the FBI would not recognize a “partial” point of contact system — where the federal and state governments split responsibility for gun background checks — also strikes a blow against arguments made by supporters of the ballot question, who have criticized Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt for not doing enough to enforce the measure and have suggested adoption of a “partial” background check system as a potential solution to the impasse.
Although Nevada voters narrowly approved the initiative on the 2016 ballot, Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s office issued an opinion in December 2016 deeming it essentially unenforceable due to the FBI’s declaration that it would not process the background checks on private sales and transfers for the state.
Laxalt’s office said it issued the opinion after repeated correspondence between the FBI and the state’s Department of Public Safety had failed to yield a solution to implement the ballot question, and has said a proposed hybrid between the state and federal systems would be “unique and unprecedented.”
“I’ve heard repeatedly, and this has been a theme, that the government officials who are being sued are avoiding implementing the law. It is frustrating because it is simply not consistent with the record. It’s the FBI that said no. The state of Nevada has asked repeatedly, not just one time, not just one phone call,” Solicitor General Lawrence Van Dyke said in a February court hearing.
Nevadans for Background Checks, which is largely funded by Everytown for Gun Safety, filed a lawsuit against the state in October seeking a court order to compel state officials to enforce the ballot question. The two sides were in District Court in February, and any ruling is likely to be appealed.
A spokesperson for the ballot group declined to comment about the meeting on the record.
Nevada began waiving the $25 fee for voluntary background checks on private guns sales or transfers in 2017, but few people have taken advantage — only 25 reported were taken between December and February, compared to the 102,247 checks the state agency conducted for gun sales made by licensed dealers in all of 2017.
Sandoval, who vetoed a 2013 bill that would have required similar background checks on private gun sales and transfers, has previously stated that he believes the best solution to the impasse is to have the Legislature change the voter-approved measure next legislative session so that the state does all of the checks.
“It is the intent of the Governor to enforce all lawful ballot initiatives passed by the citizens of Nevada. Clearly, the voters of Nevada have indicated that they want background checks for the private party sale of firearms. The legal gridlock created by the drafters of Ballot Question One is frustrating for all parties involved,” Sandoval’s office said in a statement. “Going forward, Governor Sandoval believes that the best path for both the proponents of the initiative petition, and the citizens of Nevada, would be to work with the legislature after the amendment moratorium has passed, and change the law to allow private party background checks to be conducted through DPS, rather than the FBI.”