I-Team: Debate Over Background Checks for Gun Buyers

Ed. Note: The national debate about gun violence and gun control has generated strong emotions on all sides following the recent tragedies in Connecticut and Colorado. Should Americans' Second Amendment rights be restricted in the interests of public safety, or is gun violence something that no law could curb? This is Part 9 of Guns of Nevada.

LAS VEGAS -- The very month Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, Nevadans began arming themselves in record numbers. Background checks for guns have since increased every month.

A gun buyer must undergo a background check if buying from a store or licensed dealer. However, if a gun is being transferred or purchased from a friend or associate, no background check is needed.

Creating a so-called universal background check is an idea often discussed in Washington, D.C. Brian Fadie of ProgressNow Nevada outlines what changes he hopes a new law could bring. 

"You make sure you have a basic barrier against people purchasing firearms who have a criminal background," Fadie said. "Who may have a domestic violence background. Who may have a dangerous mentally ill condition in their background. And you put a basic barrier against those kinds of people having firearms."

The federal agency tracking gun crimes, the ATF, reports newly purchased guns are rarely used in crimes. The overwhelming majority of criminal's guns were bought three years before being used in a crime and those are only the guns that could be tracked. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, has many holes. 

"The NICS background check database isn't as solid as a long of people think it is. One problem which has always plagued law enforcement records keeping, is getting arrest records into the system," said Randy Mackie with the Nevada Firearms Coaltion.

The watch group Mayors Against Illegal Guns reports Nevada ranks 25th in the nation when it comes to local courts putting names of people with mental health issues into the system.

"I want somebody to have to go before a judge and show clear evidence. I don't want to see a situation where my wife sees you drunk and doing outrageous things, and she gets scared and then my wife decides you are off your rocker, then she calls someone and your gun rights are in jeopardy. That's what I don't want to see," Mackie said.

Any legislation on background checks may have to pass through Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller. He supports near-universal background checks.

"I want to make it more efficient, more effective. I think there are some limits, pertaining to perhaps, should government be able to exercise whether you have a right to buy your brother a shotgun? How does it play within the realm of that? I don't have a problem with making these background checks more broad, more efficient, more effective. In fact, most people in the gun community do not have a problem either," Heller said.

"There was a CBS News/New York Times poll that showed 92 percent of Americans support universal background checks, that is for all purchases. You can't get 92 percent of Americans to agree that puppies are cute. That is an incredible number," Fadie said.

The power of guns is clear, but there is also power in information. It's a delicate line between knowing every gun owner and the personal details of their lives or whether the government should be trusted with more information and more power.

Last year, more than 146,000 firearm background checks were performed, with slightly more than one percent rejected. 


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