Rural Nevada counties were in open revolt last year to SB 143 prohibiting the sale of guns between individuals in the state without conducting a background check. The bill passed both the Nevada Senate and Assembly on party line votes 12 days into the legislative session — signed by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in February 2019.
Legislative Republicans complained the bill was rushed through the process without due consideration after a marathon hearing with fiery rhetoric from both sides.
The language of the new law is essentially the same as Ballot Question 1 passed by voters in 2016, except for the agency designated to do background checks. It replaced the federal FBI with a new in-state system. Ballot Question 1 was found “unenforceable” for lack of administrative support and resources from the federal government.
In 2016, Question 1 was placed on the ballot by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who funneled millions of dollars into writing, qualifying and promoting this ballot initiative. His out-of-state funding provided a lavish media campaign focused on urban voters in Las Vegas. Question 1 narrowly passed by fewer than 10,000 votes statewide — but winning in Clark County by more than 100,000 votes.
Question 1 lost in 16 of Nevada’s 17 counties. In gun-owning rural Nevada, it was defeated overwhelmingly. Elko County voted “No” 14,988 to 3,382; in Douglas County losing 19,027 to 8,414; in Carson City, 16,238 to 8,497.
The passage of SB 143 spawned a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” movement across rural Nevada last year enlisting resolutions in support from 10 counties — Douglas, Elko, Eureka, Humboldt, Lander, Lincoln, Lyon, Nye, Pershing and White Pine.
Last March, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution that “opposes any state legislation which exceeds federal firearm transfer requirements or infringes on the United States Constitution or Article 1, Section 11 of the Constitution of the State of Nevada.”
The Board of Commissioners in Elko County later in March unanimously passed a resolution proclaiming the county a “Sanctuary County for the Second Amendment.” The resolution affirms “its support of the duly elected Elko County Sheriff in the exercise of his sound discretion to not enforce any unconstitutional firearms laws against any citizen.”
All 17 elected Nevada Sheriffs, including Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, signed a letter last June affirming their support for the Second Amendment.
The political left across the U.S. has been declaring “sanctuary cities” and refusing to enforce federal immigration law. They’re less enthusiastic when Americans do the same on behalf of the Bill of Rights.
If you believe in the rule of law, “sanctuary’ movements on the right or left are wrong. If you don’t like a law in a democracy, the proper and lawful response is to persuade elected officials to change it. But, the Second Amendment sanctuary backlash is a warning not to take anti-gun measures too far.
This sanctuary movement has a point about the Constitution. In the landmark Heller case (2008), the Supreme Court ruled that individuals have the right to bear arms, but politicians often ignore it. Too often courts have acquiesced by upholding or refusing to review unconstitutional restrictions.
The Supreme Court has refused to review a gun case since 2010. Justice Clarence Thomas observes: “The right to keep and bear arms is apparently this court’s constitutional orphan.”
In December, the Court finally heard arguments in a case (New York State Rifle & Pistol) about a New York City rule that severely restricted the transportation of legally owned guns outside the owner’s home. The rule has been amended—in hopes the Supreme Court will drop the case as moot—but Justices, including new Justice Kavanaugh, now have a chance to offer guidance to lower courts and legislatures about Second Amendment limits to their regulatory power over guns.
Jim Hartman is an attorney living in Genoa. E-mail email@example.com.