By Ryan Tarinelli
CARSON CITY — Survivors of a 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival spoke Tuesday in support of a Nevada bill to expand gun background checks to private gun sales and transfers, hours before a state Senate committee passed the measure along party lines.
The attack killed 58 people and left hundreds injured, becoming the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
While gun reform advocates acknowledge the background check bill would not have stopped shooter Stephen Paddock from obtaining his weapons, they say the measure is an important step to prevent gun violence.
Democratic Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, who survived the 2017 mass shooting and testified in support of the bill, said it took her nearly eight months after the shooting before she stopped clearly hearing the bullets raining down.
“Expanded background checks would not have stopped 1 October, but that does not mean that we should throw up our hands and let this be the world that we live in,” she said. “I stand in solidarity with every survivor of gun violence. My story is their story.”
The comments came during a joint meeting of lawmakers from the Assembly and Senate, who were hearing comment on the bill. It aims to change state law so people can’t purchase guns and avoid background checks by going through unlicensed gun sellers.
In 2016 Nevada voters narrowly approved a gun background check measure targeting private, unlicensed sellers. But then-Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt, Republicans who opposed the law, said it could not be implemented because it required the FBI to conduct the checks and the federal agency declined.
Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, a Democrat, said the bill fixes that issue by allowing Nevada to conduct its own background checks.
Atkinson says it’s likely the bill will be voted on tomorrow. The measure passed out of the state Senate committee by a 5-3 vote.
A state court judge last year rejected arguments by advocates for the initiative that Sandoval and Laxalt failed to follow the will of the voters. An appeal of that ruling is pending before the state Supreme Court. A request was filed Tuesday seeking to push back to April an initial filing date for briefs.
The filing points to expectations that the Legislature will act in coming weeks and notes that new Gov. Steve Sisolak and Attorney General Aaron Ford, both Democrats, have called for stricter gun control measures than Sandoval and Laxalt.
“Nevadans made their voices heard, and they have waited far too long for the state government to listen and to take action,” Sisolak said at a press conference Tuesday, speaking on the voter-approved initiative.
Leading Democrats said a bill expanding gun background checks would uphold Second Amendment rights while increasing public safety.
Sisolak told lawmakers the bill is a priority and looks forward to signing it into law if it passes. He says gun violence is not an easy issue to solve, but most state residents support gun background checks.
“Sometimes we don’t see eye to eye on the best path forward,” Sisolak said. “We may not always please everybody, but doing nothing is simply not an option,”
Opponents of the measure said the proposed legislation is not specific and would make criminals out of law-abiding citizens. They argued the bill would fail to prevent mass shootings while infringing on Second Amendment rights.
Some opponents said mental health, not background checks, must be addressed to curb gun violence. Others said the bill would only affect responsible gun owners and criminals would find their way to a firearm anyway.
The measure allows a licensed dealer to charge a “reasonable fee” for a background check and overseeing the firearm transfer, a portion that drew criticism from opponents who argued it could hinder gun ownership.
Everytown for Gun Safety reports 20 states and Washington, D.C., require criminal background checks on sales by unlicensed gun sellers. Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson has said a vote on a gun background check bill would be among the first taken this year.
Republican lawmakers have accused Democrats of hurrying the legislation.