Two major players in the debate over gun laws are bringing the fight to Nevada, where voters will decide in November on requiring universal background checks on the sale or transfer of firearms.
Both the National Rifle Association and Everytown for Gun Safety are dumping millions of dollars into the state in the battle over Question 1.
Veteran state Republican operative Robert Uithoven is leading efforts to defeat the measure, and recently criticized the initiative on a public-affairs television program and warned that passing the measure would make Nevada gun laws even more restrictive than its more liberal neighbor — California.
"If Question 1 were to pass here in Nevada, we would have more restrictive gun laws here in Nevada dealing with the transfer of firearms than they do in California," he said in a June 6 interview on Nevada NewsMakers.
The California/Nevada comparison is becoming a more popular talking point among opponents of the ballot measure, but would Question 1 actually make Nevada stricter than California on gun transfers? The answer isn’t so clear.
What’s at stake?
So what would Nevada’s proposed background check expansion actually mean for gun owners?
If approved by voters, the initiative would create an escalating penalty (starting with a misdemeanor) for people without a license to sell firearms to sell or transfer guns without first going to a licensed dealer and having them conduct a background check.
That would be a departure from current state law, where background checks are generally not required for gun sales or transfers between two private parties (lawmakers approved a change waiving fees for voluntary background checks in 2015).
Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed a bill in 2013 that would have enacted a similar background check process on private gun sales and transfers, saying it would impose "unreasonable burdens and harsh penalties" on otherwise law-abiding gun owners.
If approved, licensed firearm dealers would be required to conduct the background checks, which is done under the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and is generally completed fairly quickly (though delays can last up to three days).
There are some exceptions built in to the ballot question, including sales and transfers between family members and for antique guns. Temporary transfers without background checks would be allowed in some specific cases, like on certified shooting ranges, in areas where it’s legal to hunt or while in the presence of the gun owner.
Debate over the ballot measure echoes the national debate over gun control. Supporters say the majority of background checks are completed quickly and the measure closes an existing loophole, while opponents lambast the measure for being overly vague and unduly burdensome on gun owners.
Transfers and Exemptions
Approval of Question 1 would turn private party gun sales and transfers in Nevada into a process that would more closely resemble California’s existing system, but there are some differences that would persist between the two states especially in the area of temporary gun transfers, or loans.
Uithoven told PolitiFact that California generally allows people "who are personally known to each other" to infrequently loan firearms for up to 30 days as long as the recipient has a valid firearm safety certificate and the loan is for a "lawful purpose."
California also has exemptions for transfers as gifts, on gun ranges, for use as props in the entertainment industry, loans to minors under certain requirements and for licensed hunters during hunting season(though California lawmakers are debating rolling back several of the exemptions including the 30-day infrequent loans).
Because the Nevada ballot measure don’t allow for a "temporary" transfer, or loan, between friends unless the gun owner is in the physical presence of the person handling the gun or under a several clearly stated, well-defined situations (like on a shooting range or legal hunting area), Uithoven says the new law would be stricter than what California requires.
The ballot measure does have a broader definition of "immediate family member," as California only includes transfers between parents, children, and grandparents as exempt from transfer regulations. Question 1 broadens those family exemptions in Nevada and includes "parents, children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews."
So California is stricter on which family members fall under the inter-family gun transfers label, but as Uithoven points out, the state does have an easier process for "infrequent" firearms loans (less than six times per calendar year) to people who are "personally known to each other," which could include friends or other family members.
But those "infrequent transfers" still require firearm transferees to have completed the state’s Firearm Safety Certificate course, which is a $25 written test on firearm safety and general gun laws.
That’s a regulatory hurdle that doesn’t exist in Nevada, with or without the ballot measure.
As for any other non-familial transfers that don’t fall under exemptions, California is generally stricter than a post-Question 1 Nevada. So-called "private party transfers" in California require a proof-of-residency requirement, a safe handling demonstration requirement and a mandatory ten-day waiting period, whereas the Nevada proposal would only require passing a background check.
Uithoven also says that the ballot measure allows licensed firearms dealers to ask for an undefined "reasonable fee" to conduct the background check, while California has a set dollar amount written into the state’s penal code.
We also reached out to the pro-Question 1 Background Checks Initiative, who highlighted a handful of California regulations that Nevada would lack.
California also has an "assault weapons" ban, which includes a ban on private sales or transfers of so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Nevada has no such ban.
The state has several additional regulations on private party gun sales compared to the proposed Nevada changes, but not all of them directly relate to firearm transfer rules.
California generally requires a 10-day waiting period for any gun sale or transfer, including private party sales and transfers (though it’s being challenged in court). Again, this regulation doesn’t apply to the exempted transfers.
California also prohibits buyers from purchasing more than one handgun in a 30-day period, but that’s only for retail sales — private party transfers are exempt.
NRA Nevadans for Freedom campaign manager Robert Uithoven said passing Question 1 would lead to "more restrictive gun laws here in Nevada dealing with the transfer of firearms than they do in California."
Passing the ballot question would make Nevada look a lot more like California in terms of private party gun sales and transfers, with generally fewer regulations.
Uithoven’s claim focuses specifically in on the process of firearm transfers. In some ways, Nevada’s law would be tougher, but in other ways it would not. Overall, California would have more regulations on firearm transfers if Question 1 passes but would be more lenient in exempting certain types of gun transfers.
Uithoven’s statement is partially accurate but leaves out important context. We rate it Half True.