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September 18, 2014

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Q+A:

Facing tough re-election, Justin Jones sticks to his guns on background checks

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Sen. Justin C. Jones

Republicans and pro-gun lobbyists have a target on Justin Jones.

After the lieutenant governor's campaign, Jones' race against Republican Becky Harris is the most important one on the Nov. 4 ballot. Harris has strong support from state Republican leaders, especially Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, who is eager to become majority leader.

If they can oust the Democratic state senator from District 9, Republicans would likely take control of the Senate by reversing the Democrats' 11-10 majority.

But Jones is no pushover.

As a first-term lawmaker in 2013, Jones ascended the ranks as an assistant whip and defined himself as a politician unafraid of signing on to controversial legislation.

Jones sponsored a bill requiring participants in all private firearm sales and transfers to go through an FBI background check.

Justin Jones

Age: 39

Profession: Attorney

Background: Jones won a special Senate election in 2012 for Senate District 9 by 301 votes. He served one legislative session in 2013 and authored bills for stricter gun background checks, more disclosure from lobbyists and greater protections for private health records.

The bill came amid an intense national debate about gun control following the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Like President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats, Jones said he sponsored the bill to keep firearms away from criminals and the mentally ill.

Republicans said the bill would create unfair penalties for law-abiding citizens and do little to keep criminals from buying firearms. The bill passed the Democratic-controlled Legislature, but Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed it. The partisan standoff is now ammo for both candidates on the campaign trail.

Jones talked to the Sun about his opponent's tight-lipped campaign, trap shooting and more. His answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

You won your last election by 301 votes in a presidential year. There isn’t a big-name Democratic candidate to drive voters. How are you going to mobilize your district and keep the Democrats in control of the Senate?

It is really one door at a time and one phone call at a time.

Your Republican opponent, Becky Harris, is refusing to do interviews with the media. What does that say about a candidate running for public office?

It says to me that she’s not ready for prime time. My real focus is talking to my constituents and telling them about the important work we have been doing and the important work that we will continue to do.

Pro-gun groups and Republicans feared your background checks bill would create a gun registration. In your eyes, is that what the bill did?

The bill really proposed to provide additional resources for folks who are facing mental illness challenges, and it also required background checks for all gun purchases. This issue was first brought to my attention by a church member after the Newtown tragedy. They asked me what I was going to do to make sure this doesn't happen again.

We register our vehicles, pets, births, deaths and marriages. Why is there a fear of having a gun registration?

(The bill) was not about registration. It was about making sure all gun purchases go through a background process making sure felons and the mentally ill and people who are dangerous to themselves and others do not have access to firearms.

If re-elected, would you propose similar legislation in the upcoming session?

I think that we’ll take a look at all the options in the upcoming session.

I saw a photo on Twitter of you shooting trap at the Clark County Shooting Range. Do you consider yourself a sportsman?

I’ve shot guns since I was a kid. I am not afraid of guns and never had any interest in taking away anyone’s Second Amendment rights. My proposal was trying to keep firearms out of the wrong hands.

A Second Amendment advocate?

I respect the Second Amendment. I think it is one of the important parts of our Bill of Rights. I respect the rights of all to keep and bear arms.

Clarification: Becky Harris has not had any interviews published or broadcast with Nevada media during this campaign. She has had interviews published with two out-of-state media outlets, The Wall Street Journal in May and The New York Times in August.

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