If Nevada’s universal background check law worked as promised, shootings wouldn’t have jumped significantly in 2021.
In 2021, there were 245 homicides in Clark County. That was a significant increase from 195 homicides in 2020 and 144 homicides in 2019. Homicide doesn’t always mean murder. Some of the killings were in self-defense.
In 2021, shootings accounted for nearly 70 percent of those deaths, at 169. In 2020, there were 136 homicides from gunshot wounds. In 2019, that number was 98. All stats are from the Review-Journal’s January reports of homicides from previous years.
Given those numbers, it’s unsurprising that the Metropolitan Police Department is worried about how easily criminals obtain guns.
“The access juveniles and criminals are able to get to firearms is concerning,” Metro homicide Lt. Ray Spencer said. “That’s probably the biggest reason on what’s driving our homicide numbers is that guns are so easily stolen and accessible.”
That’s a big problem. And one that — according to gun control activists — Nevada solved years ago.
In 2019, Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a law requiring universal background checks on firearm sales and transfers. It cleaned up a drafting error that prevented the 2016 background check initiative from going into effect. You can’t credit 2019’s low homicide numbers to this bill because it didn’t go into effect until January 2020.
“Criminals and other dangerous people can avoid background checks by buying guns from unlicensed firearms sellers, whom they can easily meet online or at gun shows and who are not legally required to run background checks before selling or transferring firearms,” the bill reads. “Due to this loophole, millions of guns exchange hands each year in the United States without a background check.”
Background checks would prevent those criminals from obtaining those guns, the argument went, which would reduce crime.
“Background checks have been shown time and time again to be the single-best way to limit firearms from getting into the wrong hands without compromising the rights of law-abiding gun owners,” then-Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson testified.
As last year’s homicide stats show, that didn’t happen. Despite Nevada’s background check law, criminals found ways to obtain guns.
This was predictable. Criminals — as the name implies — don’t let the law limit their behavior. Convicted felons aren’t allowed to possess a firearm. Just by trying to obtain one, they would be breaking the law. Yet a law requiring a background check for a private party sale would stop them? How did that make sense?
It doesn’t, which is why the law has had no discernible impact on stopping criminals from obtaining guns. What the law does is annoy responsible gun owners or turn them into unwitting lawbreakers. Say a rancher keeps a rifle in a truck to keep the coyotes at bay. Before his employee takes that vehicle out, he’s supposed to go to a gun shop to run a background check on the employee. Anyone think that’s happening in rural Nevada? How would you feel safer if it did?
Gun violence is a multifaceted problem. Nevada shows that universal background checks can’t — and didn’t — fix it.