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Nevada could soon put background checks for guns on the ballot

A pro-reform gun group in Nevada collected the largest number of signatures ever gathered for a ballot initiative in the state.
A handgun is displayed during a convention in Reno, Nevada on Jan. 29, 2011. (Photo by Max Whittaker/Reuters)
A handgun is displayed during a convention in Reno, Nevada on Jan. 29, 2011.

A pro-reform gun group in Nevada this week collected the largest number of signatures ever gathered for a ballot initiative in the state — more than double the amount required by law. The group, Nevadans for Background Checks, is gaining inspiration from the success of a similar initiative in nearby Washington, where residents passed a major victory for gun control last week.

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The organization on Wednesday delivered nearly 250,000 signatures to election officials for a state ballot measure that could strengthen the screening and reporting of gun purchases. For three months, members of Nevadans for Background Checks, as well as representatives from Everytown for Gun Safety, rallied support from citizens in each county of the Silver State. They hope to close the loopholes in the law that allow felons, domestic abusers, and mentally-ill individuals to buy guns.

Federal law requires licensed firearms dealers to perform background checks on prospective purchasers and to maintain records of the sales. But unlicensed private sellers — online and at gun shows, for example — are not required to observe the same policies.

If Nevada's secretary of state validates the signatures, the initiative will go to the Legislature during the 2015 session. Reform groups, including Everytown, expect background checks to qualify as a valid initiative for the Legislature to vote on next year. But if lawmakers fail to pass the measure, or if Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoes it, the organizations will take the issue directly to voters as a ballot measure in the 2016 presidential election. Members are also pushing for similar ballot initiatives in other states, including Arizona and Maine.

Last year, the Nevada State Legislature passed a bill requiring background checks on all gun sales. But Sandoval vetoed the measure, despite 86% of his constituents saying they favored passing mandatory background checks for all firearms purchases.

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Washington was the only state where a gun issue was directly on a ballot during last week's midterm elections. Its residents passed Initiative 594, which requires criminal background checks on all firearms sales and transfers in the state. The recent midterms marked the first major election cycle since 26 people, including 20 first-graders, were shot to death in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012. The initiative makes Washington the seventh state to require background checks on all gun sales, and the fifth (after Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, and New York) to do so since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Federal lawmakers failed to pass a bipartisan background checks bill last year in the months following tragic violence in Newtown. Nonetheless, some state lawmakers have devoted efforts to curbing gun violence by passing legislation. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, for instance, in August signed bipartisan gun-safety legislation into law that grants police chiefs the authority to prevent certain individuals from obtaining firearms licenses.