Nevada sheriffs oppose a new gun registration law set to go into effect in January, arguing it is unconstitutional and saying they don’t plan on enforcing it.
The law requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks on all private gun transfers, which law enforcement says is unenforceable.
The new law, SB 143, signed by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, “arbitrarily and unnecessarily infringes on the rights of law-abiding citizens,” Republican leader James Settelmeyer said.
Its sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, argues “Background checks are proven to be the best way to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands without compromising the rights of law-abiding citizens.”
But Tom Knighton at Bearing Arms noted that, “even [liberal media outlet] Vox conceded that universal background checks don’t work, regardless of what Atkinson claims.”
The law, Sisolak says, was in response to the October 2017 Las Vegas Strip shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. It requires licensed dealers to run a background check on anyone who buys or receives a gun through a private sale or as a gift, whom the state deems is “an unlicensed person.”
Proponents of SB 143 argue gun purchasers should undergo a background check prior to all sales including from individuals or online.
The law includes exceptions for sales or transfers between immediate family members, for some types of temporary loans, and for law enforcement. Violators could be charged with a gross misdemeanor on the first offense, and a class C felony punishable by up to five years in state prison.
The National Rifle Association said the law lacks clear definitions and “is a poorly drafted, ineffective and unenforceable piece of legislation that will not deter criminal actors and will have a disproportionate impact on law-abiding citizens.”
Nye County Sheriff Sharon Wehrly and Sheriff Jesse Watts of Eureka County both wrote separate letters to Sisolak and Attorney General Aaron Ford expressing their opposition to the law.
“In Germany prior to WWII, we saw Hitler place restrictions on the public’s right to bear arms,” Wehrly said in her letter. “I agree with Sheriff Watts. I will not participate in the enforcement of this new law and certainly won’t stand silent.”
Watts wrote in his letter that he would not stand by while “citizens are turned into criminals due to the unconstitutional actions of misguided politicians.”
Their position has been dubbed by the Sparks Tribune as a “Second Amendment sanctuary” sentiment, which the paper says is “emerging in sheriff’s offices and statehouses in several states in the U.S. West including Washington and New Mexico.”
Sheriffs in about 20 counties in Washington have reportedly said they won’t enforce their state’s similar gun sale background check law until the courts decide on whether or not it violates the Second Amendment. In New Mexico, sheriffs vowed not to enforce a similar law, arguing it burdens lawful gun owners and would be difficult to enforce.
Sisolak issued a statement saying he pledged to work with sheriffs “to review ways to enforce this law, as is the case with all other Nevada laws that elected officers are sworn to uphold.”
In 2016, the Background Check Act designed to implement universal background checks was added to the ballot through a $20 million campaign funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety initiative. It failed in 16 out of Nevada’s 17 counties. Only voters in Clark County approved the measure, enough to pass it by 10,000 votes.
Former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt deemed the law “unenforceable as written” less than 60 days after the vote. Sheriff’s offices also issued statements saying they would not enforce the law in 2016.