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Nye County sheriff invokes Hitler, joins pushback from rural law enforcement over gun background check law

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
State Government
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A photo of the sign next to the road entering Nye County.

Nye County Sheriff Sharon Wehrly told Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday that she would not enforce the state's new gun background checks law, joining a slew of other small county sheriffs moving to defy the newly approved law.

In a letter sent to Sisolak’s office on Thursday, Wehrly calls the law "a political statement" directly contradicted by the 2nd Amendment and compared it to the seizure of weapons by Adolf Hitler in the years leading up to World War II.

"History seems to be repeating itself in the United States; in Germany prior to WWII we saw Hitler place restrictions on the public's right to bear arms, then we stood by and watched him seize the firearms from his citizens, placing them 'under the protection of the state,'” Wehrly wrote. “Today, we see politicians use the death of innocent victims to advocate for laws that prevent the non-criminal, law abiding citizens of our communities from transferring firearms between individuals without a background check, limit the types of firearms they buy and regulate the capacity or type of magazines for the firearms they own."

Wehrly told The Nevada Independent that the gross misdemeanor charge stemming from the law was “a lot” for private gun transfers that she said residents of rural Nevada have done routinely for years.

“I just don’t think it’s fair to the citizens of Nye County,” Wehrly said.

Signed into law last month, SB143 codifies a voter-approved 2016 ballot question that requires state-run background checks on the vast majority of private gun sales and transfers. The bill intended to fix problems with the voter-approved initiative, which was blocked after the FBI refused to conduct the background checks.

The law won’t take effect until Jan. 2, 2020, because of a requirement that any change to a voter-approved initiative must happen at least three years after the measure is approved. The measure was opposed by every legislative Republican.

According to The Elko Daily Free Press, Elko County will consider adopting a resolution during its March 20 meeting that would essentially declare that the county would not enforce the background check laws. Elko County Sheriff Aitor Narvaiza said other rural counties, including White Pine, Eureka, Douglas and Lander, were also considering or had already adopted similar positions.

In a Facebook post last month, Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen said he was staunchly opposed to the bill and that it “continues the erosion of the rights” found in the U.S. and Nevada constitutions.

“I will not use the authority granted to me by the State of Nevada and the residents of Pershing County to infringe on the People’s right to Keep and Bear Arms, absent the actual commission of a violent Felony crime or valid court order,” he wrote.

A similar letter posted by Eureka County Sheriff Jesse Watts to Sisolak stated that he “refused to participate, or stand idly by, while my citizens are turned into criminals due to the unconstitutional actions of misguided politicians.”

The White Pine County Commission has scheduled an agenda item for its March 13 meeting to declare the county a “Sanctuary County for the 2nd Amendment.” Douglas County residents are holding a town hall next week to “discuss the probability” the county will pass a resolution stating it will not enforce the law.

Sisolak’s office said in a statement that the governor had only received letters from Nye and Eureka County sheriffs, and that he would work with them to uphold the law.

“My office and that of the attorney general are aware of the letters from multiple rural Nevada sheriffs regarding SB143,” he wrote in the statement. “While the law will not take effect until January 2020, I look forward to working with Attorney General Ford and local law enforcement over the next several months to review ways to enforce this law, as is the case with all other Nevada laws that elected officers are sworn to uphold.”

Ford’s office said it was aware of the letters and that his duty was to uphold the laws of the state, including one approved in 2015 requiring all counties in the state to adhere to state gun laws.

“In 2016, voters approved a ballot question requiring background checks on most firearm transfers,” he said in the statement. “Just last month, the Nevada Legislature passed a similar law that closed the background check loophole. That law is set to go into effect in January 2020. Between now and the effective date, I look forward to sitting down with sheriffs and other local law enforcement officials to discuss the best way to implement the laws we have sworn to uphold.”

The letter from Sheriff Sharon Wehrly to Gov. Sisolak is embedded below.

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