CARSON CITY, NV. - Discussion Thursday afternoon on a proposed bill that aims to keep guns out of the hands of people deemed mentally ill and a danger to themselves and others.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony from both sides regarding SB 221, sponsored by Senator Justin Jones of Clark County.
“I didn't set out to take on this issue when I sought this office but Sandy Hook changed things,” Jones said. “I'm a father first and I was deeply disturbed that someone with mental health issues had such easy access to firearms and could carry out such carnage on innocent children.”
The bill would require background checks for all gun purchases, expand collaboration efforts between the Department of Health and Human Services, law enforcement and mental health professionals and establish a duty for those professionals to report situations where patients express a specific intent to harm or kill another person.
Representatives from the National Rifle Association say they are opposed to the bill for two major reasons.
“This bill covers two distinct subject areas; one is mental health and the other is background checks,” said NRA representative Dan Reid. “The NRA does support improving our mental health system so long as it doesn't infringe on the rights of law abiding citizens.”
No one really took issue with the spirit of the bill but several citizens expressed concern that it went too far.
“A lot of people move to Nevada from other states to escape what they saw as oppressive law,” firearms dealer Richard Brengman said. “We do not want to create that sort of oppressive law in the state of Nevada and this universal background check, that's exactly what we're looking to do. We're going to drive people out of Nevada, drive businesses out of Nevada. People come here to get away from that sort of thing; we don't want to do that here.”
The Nevada Firearms Coalition is opposing the bill as well.
“We are strongly opposed to this legislation because it is not a mental health bill but a poorly written gun control bill,” Coalition President Don Turner said. “This is clearly a violation of the 'due process' clause that both the 5th and 14th Amendments guarantee. The Constitution says the state cannot 'deny any person life, liberty or property without due process of law.' You can't take away someone's rights just because one doctor says you are unstable.”
Senator Jones said the purpose of the bill is not to stigmatize those suffering from mental illness or to discourage them from seeking treatment; it's to protect children and keep guns out of the wrong hands.
“I do not pretend to have all the answers to this very difficult subject,” Jones said. “Nor will I pretend that if passed, my bill will stop all mentally ill individuals who are determined to be a danger to others by gaining access to guns. But I could not look those concerned parents in the eye if I stood idly by and did nothing.”
An amendment to the bill has been proposed and Senator Jones says he's looking forward to working with other legislators on the issue.