In April, Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) refused to vote for the Senate’s bill to expand background checks on gun purchases, pushing a debunked conspiracy theory that the bill would create a national gun registry to justify his opposition. Now that anti-gun violence groups are targeting him along with other senators who voted against the failed legislation, Heller sent a letter to his constituents insisting on his support for increased gun control.
As 87 percent of Nevadans support background checks, the letter avoided any mention of Heller’s vote against the Manchin-Toomey background checks compromise. Instead, the senator touted his co-sponsorship of an NRA-supported bill that claimed to strengthen background checks but would actually make it easier for mentally ill people to get guns.
I have been adamant from the beginning of the gun control debate that our current background check system needs strengthening and improving, particularly in areas that could keep guns out of the hands of felongs and the mentally ill. We need to increase submission rates of disqualifying records by state as well as close existing loopholes in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). You may be interested to know, I am an original cosponsor of bipartisan legislation, the NICS Reporting Improvement Act (S.480), to strengthen our current background check system and close loopholes related to the mentally ill. This legislation provides clarity to existing law and is a common sense approach to preventing unnecessary violence.
The bill Heller refers to was drafted in consultation with the NRA and would allow patients who were involuntarily committed and treated for mental illness to pass a background check. Despite his professed support for gun control, Heller has actually voted to loosen gun laws. He has repeatedly supported a proposal to allow concealed weapons to be carried into states where they are illegal, co-sponsored two bills to make interstate gun purchases easier and to repeal Washington, D.C. gun laws. Indeed, the NRA-backed bill he’s now trying to pass off as a background checks bill would have also weakened gun laws by making it easier to buy guns across state lines. As gun sales in states with lax gun laws are a common method of evading stricter laws in other states, the bill Heller touts in his letter could very well have made gun violence worse.
Heller is not the only senator trying to dissemble on their gun control stance after voting against background checks. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) responded to an ad criticizing his vote by claiming he did vote to strengthen background checks. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) also had some help from the NRA in an ad trying to obscure her anti-background check vote.