Background checks on gun sales reduce crime, make public safer

Lawmakers are considering Senate Bill 221, which would require background checks for all gun sales in Nevada, with reasonable exceptions for family and certain temporary transfers. In an effort to prevent deadly weapons from falling into the wrong hands, I strongly support this legislation and I urge elected officials to stand with law enforcement by backing this common-sense measure.

As the former sheriff of Clark County, I know that background checks are the single most effective way to keep criminals, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill and other dangerous individuals from obtaining guns. Since its creation in 1998, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System has blocked more than 2 million gun sales to prohibited purchasers — no doubt saving countless lives across the country.

Unfortunately, there’s a gaping loophole in the current system: These checks — more than 90 percent of which take no more than 90 seconds to complete — aren’t required for the more than 6.6 million sales made each year by so-called “private sellers.” Whether it’s over the Internet, at a gun show or out of the trunk of a car, these private sales provide a trouble-free avenue for criminals to acquire any gun, from a Glock to an AR-15, with no paperwork and no questions asked.

And they don’t hesitate to take advantage of it. Among prison inmates who committed crimes with handguns, nearly 80 percent obtained those guns through private transfers.

Sadly, our state is all too familiar with what can happen when dangerous people exploit this hazardous gap in our gun laws. In January 2010, Johnny Lee Wicks stormed into the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse in downtown Las Vegas and opened fire, killing 72-year-old security guard Stanley Cooper and wounding a federal marshal.

Wicks, a disgruntled ex-felon who was legally barred from possessing firearms, used a shotgun that was purchased from a gun show without a background check a couple of years earlier.

For the sake of protecting Nevadans across the state, we have an obligation to cut off the easy access to guns that allows people such as Wicks to wreak havoc on our communities. By closing this enormous loophole and extending a proven safeguard to cover all gun sales, legislators in Carson City can take an easy and sensible step that will help prevent future tragedies.

It’s no wonder, then, that 86 percent of Nevada residents support comprehensive and enforceable background checks for all gun buyers. They know that our state can respect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding individuals and promote practical gun safety policies that will help save lives.

Background checks also provide a critical tool during investigations of violent gun crimes. Because the system requires licensed firearm dealers to maintain basic sales receipts for all transactions, police have the ability to more easily track down suspects by tracing the guns found at crime scenes.

I strongly support legislation to expand the current system to require background checks for all gun sales in Nevada with reasonable exceptions. The sooner SB221 is passed and signed into law, the sooner we can start saving lives.

Bill Young, vice president of security and surveillance for Station Casinos, was Clark County sheriff from 2003 to 2007. This editorial previously ran in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on May 23.