Nevada governor signs gun background checks into law two years after voters asked for them

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, shown in January, has signed a law requiring background checks on most private gun sales and transfers.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, shown in January, has signed a law requiring background checks on most private gun sales and transfers.
(Tom R. Smedes / Associated Press)

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on Friday signed into law a measure to require background checks on most private gun sales and transfers — the fulfillment of an initiative passed by voters more than two years ago.

“In November 2016, the majority of Nevadans made it clear they wanted us to do more to address gun violence. But for the 829 days since then, they’ve been ignored,” the new Democratic governor said. “That finally changes today.”

A ballot initiative narrowly passed by voters was never enacted by the previous Republican administration. The attorney general at the time — Adam Laxalt — said the measure was unenforceable and poorly written.


But Democrats swept the governorship and control of both chambers of the state Legislature in November. Getting a law passed to require those background checks was a high priority for legislative leaders.

The law largely mirrors the ballot measure but removed language that would have required the FBI to conduct the background checks. Under the new law, which will take effect next year, the state will conduct them.

It was debated in committees this week and was designed to be signed into law around the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., where 14 high school students and three staff members were killed on Valentine’s Day. During the Assembly vote Friday, Assemblyman Howard Watts listed the names of those who died in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The new law requires a background check on private sales and transfers through a licensed firearms dealer — with a few exemptions that include antique gun transfers and temporary transfer of a firearm in cases where a person is in danger of being injured or killed.

The signing of the bill marked a big moment in a state that has been undergoing somewhat of a political transformation over the last decade.

Members of a Nevada chapter of Moms Demand Action attend a hearing for Senate Bill 143 at the Nevada Legislature in Carson City.
(Jason Bean / Associated Press)

Since 2008, Nevada has been blue on the presidential electoral map — choosing President Obama twice and voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016. In the last election cycle, the Senate incumbent, Republican Dean Heller, lost to Democrat Jacky Rosen — giving the state two women Democratic senators. After the 2016 election, Nevada also became the first state to have an overall majority of women in its Legislature.

The passage of the 2016 background check initiative, despite heavy spending against it by the National Rifle Assn., reflected that shift as well. Calls for more gun regulation came after the mass shooting in October 2017, when a gunman killed 58 people and wounded hundreds more at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip.

Prior to the state Assembly vote on Friday, where it passed 28 to 13, a handful of Republicans argued the law wouldn’t stop criminals from obtaining guns. Assemblyman Glen Leavitt labeled the bill “a publicity stunt.”

But Democrats disagreed and said the measure would help save lives.

“They say criminals are the ones who break the laws and will get guns anyway,” Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo said. “I say the logic of that argument is flawed. We might as well say that we might not have traffic laws on the books because only criminals will be the ones to break the traffic laws. However, I’m here to tell you we need those laws on the books because we have to tell law-abiding citizens sometimes to give then direction as well.”

Sisolak, flanked by Democratic lawmakers when he signed the bill, said he hoped it would spur other states to tighten gun regulations.


“We have already lost too many lives across the country to guns,” he said. “With this bill, we are taking an important step to address the nationwide public health crisis that is gun violence, and we are making our children and families safer here at home by making it harder for potentially dangerous individuals to access a firearm.” | Twitter: @davemontero