Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013 | 2:03 a.m.
There was a brief period after the horrible shooting in Newtown, Conn., last December when our lawmakers in Washington appeared to finally let go of the gun lobby’s grip on the gun safety debate. Democrats and Republicans alike claimed to support some sensible steps to address the epidemic of gun violence in our country. I give Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., credit for being a voice of reason in an understandably emotionally charged time.
He said weeks after the tragedy: “Let’s figure out the best way to address the problem. And to me, the problem is making sure an individual who shouldn’t have a weapon of any type — because they have a propensity to commit a violent act — doesn’t get their hands on that weapon.” I couldn’t have articulated this point any better myself. He elaborated, “I think the idea of background checks across the board, I’m not opposed to them.” I was pleased to hear our congressman put aside the partisan screaming that’s created so much gridlock in Washington.
Before we speed up to the part where falsehoods about gun registries, confiscations and stomping on Second Amendment rights flooded the discussion, let me assure you that I own a gun myself. I believe guns are a true part of our fabric and history in Nevada. But I stand with the 82 percent of gun owners across the country — according to Republican pollster Frank Luntz — who support expanding background checks to cover private sales. The overwhelming majority of gun owners, including 74 percent of National Rifle Association members, know that owning a firearm comes with responsibility, and conducting a background check to make sure folks are up to that responsibility is common sense.
As Heck alluded, these two-minute checks already take place for every gun sale at a licensed dealer, but they’re not required for those at gun shows or over the Internet — avenues that account for up to 40 percent of purchases.
Would we let 4 out of every 10 airline passengers slip through without a security screening? Any responsible gun owner should welcome these safety measures at the point of sale because allowing a criminal total anonymity in their search for a weapon puts us all at risk. Background checks go hand in hand with the Second Amendment and have proven to save lives.
So because Heck said he wanted to make it harder for criminals to get weapons, he has been leading the charge to close the private sale loophole in the House of Representatives, right? Well, there’s bipartisan legislation co-sponsored by Republican Peter King, Democrat Mike Thompson and more than 180 other congressmen being promoted to save lives, but you won’t find Joe Heck’s name on that list.
This recess, Heck can expect to hear from gun owners like me, who feel misrepresented by the cries of a few on the extreme fringe. Rational gun owners know that no one is coming to take our guns, so the same tired excuses and tricks we’ve seen from the gun lobby in Washington have no place in this discussion.
Look no further than the bait and switch that Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., pulled, saying he voted “to strengthen our background check system and close loopholes related to the mentally ill” despite blocking the one piece of bipartisan legislation in the Senate — proposed by two NRA A-rated senators — to expand background checks to cover private sales.
We were reminded of the urgency to close these loopholes just last month. A young man in Reno purchased an automatic weapon in a Starbucks parking lot at 4 a.m. even though he had been deemed mentally ill by a judge in 2012. Because of the loopholes in our gun laws in Nevada and nationally, this purchase was completely legal. The young man’s parents rightfully worried for his safety last year when he threatened suicide, and they thankfully found the gun before it could fire any rounds. But he could go out tomorrow and buy another gun easily available with a simple search on Craigslist or Armslist.com.
Gun owners have a real opportunity in this discussion to strike a balance that keeps in place our right to own firearms but also reduces the number of Americans who die from gun violence each day (it was 33 the last time I checked). Extending background checks to cover private sales strikes that balance.
As someone both deeply passionate about the Second Amendment and concerned about the bloodshed in our country, I urge Heck and Heller to do the right thing and vote for background check legislation.
Finally closing the loophole that allows criminals and the mentally ill to get guns easily is long overdue and will save lives.
Ron Nelsen is a gun owner in Las Vegas.