Not implementing a stalled background check measure for firearms will allow Nevada to remain “an exporter of gun violence” through unregulated sales, Clark County’s top prosecutor told Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt earlier this month.
District Attorney Steve Wolfson penned the letter Nov. 15 along with two other prominent district attorneys — Los Angeles City Attorney Michael Feuer and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance — who are part of a group called Prosecutors Against Gun Violence. The trio called for “immediate action” on the matter, saying it could prevent would-be criminals from obtaining a gun.
“Every day that Nevada’s Background Check Law goes unenforced is another day for a domestic abuser, stalker, or other dangerous individual to get their hands on a firearm through an unlicensed sale without a background check and hurt or kill someone or themselves,” Wolfson wrote in the Nov. 15 letter.
They also referenced the Las Vegas shooting on Oct. 1, which left 58 people dead and more than 500 others injured after a gunman opened fire on a crowded country music concert. The shooter, Stephen Paddock, passed a background check when purchasing firearms in at least two Nevada stores.
“Last month’s tragedy in Las Vegas was a sobering reminder of what can happen because of just one violent person, and while no one law will prevent all crime, we are deeply troubled that the sensible public safety law passed by voters remains unenforced nearly a year after the election,” the prosecutors wrote.
Wolfson, a Democrat running for reelection in 2018, endorsed the ballot initiative in April 2016, saying at the time it was necessary to “actually protect law-abiding gun owners from selling a gun to a felon or some other person who is prohibited by law from owning it.”
Narrowly approved by voters in the 2016 election, the initiative requires nearly all private-party gun sales or transfers to be done through a licensed firearms dealer and for the recipient to first undergo a background check using the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s system.
But the new law encountered a roadblock late last year. Laxalt’s office issued an opinion on Dec. 28, 2016 — four days before the law would have gone into effect — that declared the measure “unenforceable” because the FBI had advised the state that it could not use the federal government’s background check system.
Nevada is one of 12 “Point of Contact” (POC) states, meaning it uses its own state-based system to run background checks on retail gun sales. But attorneys for Nevadans for Background Checks, the group that bankrolled the ballot question, have argued that the measure requires the state to switch from a “full” to “partial” POC system.
Last month, Nevadans for Background Checks filed a lawsuit in Clark County seeking clarity about the law and requesting a judge order Sandoval to comply with it. On that same day, Laxalt said the state could make another attempt to gain the FBI’s cooperation and solve the logistical impasse that led to his office deeming the law unenforceable.
Laxalt’s office said in the opinion that the state could change their background check system, but the solution proposed by the group would be “unique and unprecedented.”
In a filing dated Nov. 14, the attorney general’s office submitted an official request for an extension in the case until January 5, 2018, saying that the office’s “heavy litigation schedule” over the next 30 days would make it near impossible to sufficiently compose and file a response.
A deposition by Steve Shevorski, head of the department's office of complex litigation, noted that he and others in the attorney general’s office are already engaged and filing briefs in cases arising out of the Little Valley Fire in Northern Nevada, litigation related to the attempted recalls of two Democratic state senators and several class action lawsuits, including one by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the state’s system of rural indigent public defenders.
A hearing on the request to delay a response is scheduled for Dec. 6.