Veto decision on background checks looms

Gov. Brian Sandoval finds himself in the midst of a maelstrom of lobbying efforts swirling around his pending decision to sign or veto a bill requiring background checks on almost all gun transactions in Nevada.

Sandoval’s veto threat has loomed over the bill for weeks now, but that didn’t stop lawmakers from passing the bill and it hasn’t stopped gun-control advocates from trying to persuade the Republican governor to reverse course.

More than 2,200 calls came in to the governor’s office about the bill Wednesday alone — the overwhelming majority of which urged a veto, but it was unknown how many people called more than once. In response, the governor’s office set up an automated phone system that allows callers to support or oppose SB221 with a push of a button.

It’s a bill many Nevadans have strong opinions about, and one that could carry significant consequences for the moderate Republican governor who faces re-election next year and has been mentioned in some circles as a presidential possibility.

“It’s probably the right call politically to veto it quietly,” said David Damore, an associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “If you’re going through a Republican primary, you don’t want to be the guy who backed expanded background checks.”

Because Republicans have lost gay marriage and other social issues, gun control is “one they are going to defend,” he added.

“He’s going to be considered suspect given his tax record and other things, so this would sort of help protect his right flank,” Damore said.

With political aspirations undoubtedly in mind, Sandoval must also consider the heavy lobbying going on close to home.

The National Rifle Association sent the governor a formal letter opposing the bill and has concentrated its efforts internal rather than on more broad-based campaigning, representative Dan Reid told The Associated Press.

“We are actively alerting our members on the issue and how they can voice their opposition to the governor,” Reid said. “Our members have been active on this bill since its introduction and have consistently voiced opposition.”

In the wake of the several high-profile shootings, state lawmakers across the country passed more than 80 new gun laws this year. Some focused on tightening gun laws while others loosened regulations on firearms.

Currently, six states and the District of Columbia require background checks on all gun sales. The bill mandating the same in the Silver State cleared the Senate by a single vote and narrowly passed the Assembly by four votes on the last day of the 2013 session.

A significant player in the bill’s passage was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun-control advocacy group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which spent significant resources on a public advertising campaign urging lawmakers’ support and on flying in victims of high-profile gun violence events from across the country to testify in Carson City.

“This isn’t just about a single organization — this is really about what people of Nevada want,” said John Feinblatt, chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, adding that more than 11,000 Nevadans have joined the organization’s efforts to get the bill into law.

“They know that you can respect the second amendment while, at the same time, making sure guns don’t get hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill,” Feinblatt said.

The group sponsored a poll of 800 likely voters the week of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in February which found 86 percent favored universal background checks.

“It would be a shame if the governor of the state stood in the way of the will of the legislature and 86 percent of the people who live in Nevada,” Feinblatt said. “Why is he going to side with the gun lobby rather than the people of Nevada?”

As of Friday, the Senate had not yet sent a final draft of the bill to Sandoval’s office for approval. Once that happens, the governor has 10 days, not counting Sundays, to veto the bill or it becomes law without his signature.

The governor was unavailable for comments on this article.


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