LAS VEGAS, NV — Surrounded by monogrammed assault rifle parts, bulletproof vests, and rows and rows of guns, many of the tattooed, bearded vendors at the Las Vegas Gun Show had an unexpected stance on the state’s proposal for expanded background checks.
“Pass it,” Louie Leynes, an employee at Bargain Pawn in North Las Vegas, told ThinkProgress. “It’s a good thing.”
Standing behind an assortment of new and used firearms, Leynes and two of his coworkers explained why they support the Nevada Background Check Initiative, which would require private gun sellers to conduct background checks through a licensed firearm dealer. Too many times, they said, they’ve seen potential customers at gun shows back away from Bargain Pawn when they found out they would be subject to a background check, and then head over to a private gun seller instead.
“They’ll say ‘Oh, yeah, never mind,’ and then they go buy it from a private seller,” said Mitch Winters, also an employee at Bargain Pawn. “[Current law] definitely lets some people get away with buying guns when they shouldn’t.”
Right now, Nevada law requires background checks for all firearm sales, except when the sale is carried out by a private party. Gun control advocates call this the “gun show loophole,” as that’s where private sellers often do business.
The Nevada Background Check Initiative — scheduled to be on the ballot statewide in 2016 — would close that loophole. And theoretically, it should have a lot of support. A 2014 survey from Public Policy Polling found that expanding background checks is about as popular as pizza, with 78 percent of Nevadans in support. At the Las Vegas gun show on Sunday, gun rights attorney Donald J. Green agreed.
“Ninety-nine percent of people here probably support background checks,” he said, speaking behind his booth offering legal services to gun owners. Beside him, a camouflage-print poster listed his past successes helping people pass background checks and defend against gun-related lawsuits.
But Green also expects the 2016 ballot initiative to fail. “We have a pretty good lobby against it,” he added, glancing to the area where the local NRA chapter had set up a table.
The NRA is vehemently against the effort in Nevada to expand background check requirements to private gun sellers.
The Nevada Firearms Coalition, designated by the NRA as the State Association for Nevada, is lobbying hard against it. In its latest newsletter, The Firing Line, the coalition called the proposal “a gun registration scheme in disguise.” The group’s affiliated PAC, Nevadans for State Gun Rights, calls the ballot initiative “complicated and unenforceable” and urges its members to “send a message that Bloomberg’s gun control agenda is not welcome in Nevada.”
“Don’t say you weren’t warned!” the group says. “The Bloomberg background check initiative will force the registration of firearms in not only Clark County, but all of Nevada.”
CREDIT: Alice Ollstein
At the gun show, Green also consistently referred to the ballot initiative as “Bloomberg’s” agenda coming to Nevada. That’s likely because former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is an advocate of closing the background check exemption for private sellers, and has released ads urging president Obama to take executive action on the issue. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has also called for a federal policy expanding background check requirements to private gun sellers.
Gun show attendees had an almost universal dislike of Clinton. Green said his policy on the upcoming presidential election was “A.B.C. — Anything But Clinton.” A booth next to Green’s table sold T-shirts with the slogan “Hillary For Prison 2016.” Her proposed background check measure, however, did not seem to be the driving force behind much of that dislike.
“We’re cool with background checks, just not that cool on Hillary Clinton,” Winters said.
Their views on background checks, however, may align closer with Clinton’s than with her GOP rivals, who are scheduled to debate just a few miles away from gun show on Tuesday. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has put out a gun plan arguing explicitly against expanded background checks; Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has said the policy would not do anything to prevent gun violence; and former Governor Jeb Bush said the issue should be left to the states.
CREDIT: Alice Ollstein
While many attendees did support expanded background checks, most did not believe the measure would prevent future acts of gun violence in America.
“I think it’s a good thing,” said Eddie D., a longtime Las Vegas resident who makes custom lasered Glock plates. But he added that it likely wouldn’t prevent all future mass shootings, noting that “those people will just break into a house and steal a gun.”
Green agreed. “It’s not gonna prevent [shootings], ma’am,” he said. “Let people carry, and you’ll stop San Bernardino. You’ll stop Virginia Tech.”
Data has proven, however, that background checks can help prevent gun violence. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Urban Health found that states with more expansive background check laws experienced 48 percent less gun trafficking; 38 percent fewer deaths of women shot by intimate partners; and 17 percent fewer firearms involved in aggravated assaults. In 2014, the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research found that Missouri’s murder rate increased 16 percent after the state repealed a law requiring all handgun purchasers to verify that they passed a background check. And in 2015, the Center for American Progress found that states requiring background checks have lower levels of gun violence compared with states that do not require background checks.