Senate Passes Bill for Universal Background Checks on Guns


Survivors as well as family members of gun violence victims were present in the Senate Chamber today when a bill that would require background checks for individuals engaging in the private party sale of a firearm passed on a partisan vote of 11-10.

Section 8 of SB221 would require that a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System be performed prior to the private transfer of a firearm between individuals. A proposed amendment to the bill made by Sen. Michael Roberson would have removed the background check requirement, replacing it instead an interim study and continuing background checks on a voluntary basis. That proposal failed prior to the final vote.

Nearly an hour of emotional testimony and debate followed the vote on Roberson’s proposed amendment, including statements from two legislators who lost family members as a result of gun violence.

Sen. Pat Spearman became tearful as she told her fellow legislators that of her brothers died from gun violence.

“My oldest brother did two years, two tours of duty in Vietnam, and he came back on the 14 of May, and yesterday was the anniversary of his death,” Spearman said. “My youngest brother, who was also a marine, was killed in 2006 by someone who had an unregistered gun.”

Sen. Kelvin Atkinson began his statements on SB221 by telling his fellow legislators that he is a licensed gun owner and has received endorsement from the National Rifle Association because of his stance on Second Amendment rights. Atkinson then told members of the Senate that he was attending Howard University in Washington, D.C. when he his father was murdered in 1990.

“My mom told me that my father had just been murdered, and I’ll never forget that day. I looked at the clock and it was 5:06 in the morning Eastern time,” Atkinson said. “My father was my best friend … I’ve had to live with the fact for 20 some-odd years now that the person who murdered my father has never been found.”

Sen. Debbie Smith told her fellow legislators that as a gun owner and hunter, she surprised herself with how strongly she feels about this issue.  Smith said she believes that there are still problems with the bill, but that the measure will not take away the rights of legal gun owners.

“This isn’t the panacea,” Smith said. “This isn’t going to fix everything, but I believe that it really is the appropriate action to take.”

Senators James Settelmeyer, Mark Hutchison and Greg Brower all spoke in opposition to the bill during today’s floor session. According to Settelmeyer, whose own father was killed by a gun shot, a part of his own opposition to the bill was based upon the number of exceptions to the instances in which background checks would be required.

“There are so many exceptions in here that I don’t think the bill—it may feel good to pass it, but I’m afraid that’s all it is: Feel good legislation,” Settelmeyer said. “I feel it will not have the effect.”

This was not Settelmeyer’s only objection to the measure, and he pointed out to his fellow legislators that the private transfer and loaning of firearms between individuals is not considered strange or uncommon in the rural parts of Nevada that he represents.

The primary sponsor of SB221, Sen. Justin Jones, spoke twice during the discussion; he cited many recent incidents of violence while addressing his fellow senators and told them that 86 percent of Nevadans support requiring background checks for the purchase of a firearm.

Sen. Greg Brower responded directly to that figure, saying that he believes that most people support background checks for commercial firearm sales but not for private sales.

“I would submit to the body that the 86 percent of the Nevadans who support background checks don’t understand what this bill would do,” Brower said.

Now that the measure has passed the Senate, it moves to the Assembly.