Back in 2019, I attended my first public hearing in opposition to SB 143, the bill introduced in the newly elected (and Democrat-controlled) Nevada State Legislature that would enact universal background checks (UBCs) for firearm sales. On the surface, it seemed like a good idea, but the hastily written bill meant to stop ineligible buyers from purchasing guns in private sales came with the potential to make criminals out of otherwise law-abiding and decent people.
Before the new law, it was perfectly legal and a common occurrence to loan guns to friends, girlfriends/boyfriends, roommates, neighbors, and non-immediate family members for defense, storage while out of town, or simply to try a certain model out before buying it. After, these types of transfers, without first completing a $25.00 background check at a federally-licensed dealer, would be considered a gross misdemeanor for the first offense and then a felony for the second offense.
Besides the burden of an added fee, especially for those in the working class who can barely purchase a gun in the first place, background checks are open to limited hours during the day. So, if you found yourself suddenly needing one for defense outside of those hours, you and the seller/lender would have to be willing to break that law.
I had searched for and found no compelling evidence to suggest that this kind of restriction on the personal property would have any impact on the level of violence in the state. Looking at how hostile the local governments had become to the Second Amendment in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado within the last decade - states that were previously known to be friendly to gun owners, I knew that Nevada was running a very real risk of following that same path. That path just about always started with UBCs.
I grew up in this state and have become proud of our strong libertarian culture. These proposed restrictions were a threat to that culture, so I had hoped that my testimony would help convince the lawmakers that they were unnecessary and harmful. I also felt a responsibility to attend the hearing as an LGBT woman of color – the type of vote that the Democratic Party tends to depend on. I was glad to see in the packed meeting hall that those in opposition of the bill far outnumbered those in support of it, but as I feared, most of the testimonies came from people that Democrats would be pretty sure have never and wouldn’t ever vote for them, anyway.
There were a lot of middle-aged and older white folks making good cases against the bill, a couple of conspiracy theorists who accused the state and the federal government of being behind the October 2017 shooting, and a couple of college students making sure to exclaim “build the wall!” at the end of their turn. There were a handful of persons of color besides me joining in the opposition.
I gave my testimony within the two minutes they allotted me and left the building feeling little hope that SB 143 would be defeated. Indeed, it was passed and then signed by Governor Steve Sisolak shortly after. Months later, a red flag law that violated the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments were also passed despite similarly strong opposition. The law gave police and judges the power to deprive a person of their right to bear arms at their discretion or based on hearsay from family members or their domestic partners.
Included with the red flag law bill was a proposal to eliminate state preemption, which prevents local municipalities from making their own gun laws, but that part was dropped after the lucrative shooting/outdoors expo SHOT Show threatened to pull out of the state.
Next came January 20, 2020–Lobby Day in Virginia- the state entered the national spotlight as the newest battleground for gun rights after Democrats there took control of the General Assembly. The 22,000-strong crowd of demonstrators in Richmond against the proposed legislation was hard to ignore. From it, photos began to circulate on the internet showing peaceful black and white gun owners protesting side by side, holding LGBT flags, and helping with the cleanup in the aftermath. Much of the media speculated that there would be a violent repeat of Charlottesville, but it never manifested. The sole arrest was a 21-year-old woman for refusing to remove the bandanna that was covering her face. She was later released with no charges.
It was a great opportunity to show that the vast majority of us aren’t violent alt-right extremists. It also might have given some of the Democrats pauses, as the feared HB 961 assault weapon ban failed to gain enough traction to be approved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Governor Ralph Northam, however, remained unfazed and continues to push the ban.
Not only did he not hesitate to push all anti-gun legislation despite the outcry, but he also felt bold enough to take credit for the peaceful outcome of the protest. The official statement from his office: “We are all thankful that today passed without incident. The teams successfully de-escalated what could have been a volatile situation. This resulted from weeks of planning and extensive cooperation among state, local, and federal partners in Virginia and beyond.”
By July, Northam has signed into law UBCs, red flag confiscations, a one-handgun-a-month purchase rule, and the removal of state preemption over local laws.
The increasing visibility of diversity and positivity in gun ownership, however, should still bode well in the future for the defense of the Second Amendment. Added to that, COVID-19 fears and rioters taking advantage of the outcry over the killing of George Floyd have reduced the capacity for law enforcement to respond to crimes. Seeing that they could no longer rely on the authorities, millions of Americans have purchased their first firearm, which includes many who were formerly dismissive of the need to keep one at home. These sales have soared enough to break records and cause nationwide shortages in guns and ammunition.
Will their change in attitude towards gun ownership be enough to stem the momentum of anti-gun legislation in the United States? The upcoming elections this fall should be a major indicator as incumbents and their challengers hear from voters affected by these unprecedented events.