Opinion: Gun sales that happen in Vegas don’t necessarily stay in Vegas

Nevada is on course to expand background checks for gun sales, a move that will benefit California. But this really needs a national expansion, not state by state.

Nevada voters and state officials have been wrestling for the past few years over an effort to expand gun-sale background checks. It looks like things are on course to finally get that done — and that’s good news for California.

Why? Because it turns out that, among other paths, a number of people buying guns from individuals at Nevada gun shows bring them to California. A 2017 study found that within two weeks of gun shows in Nevada, gun violence in California near the Nevada border jumps 69%.

California has some of the toughest gun control laws in the country, including requiring a background check for just about any transfer of a firearm. Nevada does not. Private sales, for instance, can be done without a check. And gun shows are filled with private vendors who skirt federal regulations requiring a federal license to engage in the business of selling guns.

That will be good for California.


If it’s just a hobby — wink, wink, nudge, nudge — then there’s no need for the federal dealer’s license and no federal requirement for a background check. There are efforts in Congress to change that by requiring background checks for nearly all transfers, but, well, good luck with that.

Nevada voters approved a 2016 initiative tightening the background check loophole, but it never went into effect after getting caught up in bureaucratic and legal challenges hinging on whether the state could ask the FBI to do the checks. But a new bill working its way through the Nevada Legislature to fix that problem is gaining steam, and prospects are good that it will get enacted.

Enter the Fray: First takes on the news of the minute »

That will be good for California. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reported that two years ago, 1,554 guns recovered by California law enforcement officials were subsequently traced back to Nevada (second only to Arizona as an outside source), though the data does not indicate how many of those guns had been purchased with a proper background check, purchased without a background check or stolen.


But there’s clearly a conduit.

Background checks are crucial to limiting access to firearms by people ineligible to own them, and it’s silly that we have such a crazy quilt of rules and regulations that vary by state. But given Congress’s abysmal failure to act on the issue — despite broad popular support for universal background checks even among gun owners — this is about the best we can hope for.