Carson City – Barring any disqualifying discoveries in your criminal background check, you can walk into a gun store and walk out with the firearms of your choice and all the ammo you can carry on the same day. Citizens 18 and older can legally purchase a rifle. Handgun sales are restricted to those 21 and older.
The background check as it exists has a few primary criteria and is conducted at the state and federal levels using the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Citizens convicted of a felony or domestic violence charge are barred from owning a gun. Undocumented non-citizens, fugitives, and those addicted to drugs are also prohibited from legally purchasing a firearm. A person who holds a medical marijuana card is prohibited from owning a gun in Nevada under the drug use clause.
To learn more about gun laws in Nevada, I stopped by Carson Guns & Training in Carson City and spoke with the manager, Randall Brooks. Mr Brooks is an NRA Appointed Training Counselor. Listen …
I began by asking Randall Brooks to describe the gun purchase process.
“So basically you come and decide which firearm is best for you, and once you’ve made that decision, basically you say you want this gun, and we give you a 4473, which is a federal form for firearms purchases, and you fill that form out basically answering a bunch of questions about yourself and your background. You’re not a habitual drug user, these types of things and some personal identifying information,” Brooks said.
“We take that information and we call the point of contact in the state of Nevada for the background check,” explained Brooks. “When they answer, we give them the pertinent information from the 4473, and they do an instant background check on your criminal activity. It usually takes 3 to 6 minutes once you get through to them depending how busy they are, and when they get back on the phone when they are done running your background, they will give us one of several responses.
“Proceed means that there’s nothing on the system that flags. There is a delay, which is normally a 3 day delay, which means that there is something there that they need to research further, and then there is the deny, which means you’re not allowed to own a firearm for whatever reason.
“Basically we tell you ‘OK, you’re approved,’ in which case, we take your money, we finalize the transaction, and you leave with your firearm,” Brooks continued. “If it’s on a delay, we explain to you that you’re on a delay and we’ll see you in 3 days.”
The hold can either come back approved or unresolved. Brooks said that if an application is unresolved or denied, they have the option to contact the Department of Public Safety to potentially resolve the issue preventing the sale, and according to Brooks, some do successfully challenge a denial.
Eligible citizens who purchase guns through a licensed dealer must pass the background check, but those who purchase guns from individuals in Nevada do not. Person-to-person sales are exempt from conducting a background check despite the passage of a ballot initiative in 2014 that would have made individual gun sales subject to the background check.
In 2014, Ballot Question 1 passed a popular vote and in effect would have prohibited the sale of guns between individuals in Nevada without conducting a background check, but following the election, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt issued an opinion that rendered the voter approved law unenforceable for lack of administrative support from the federal and state governments, and thereby, the “unenforceable” status means citizens cannot be prosecuted for not complying with the act, though Randall Brooks says he does a lot of background checks for individual-to-individual sales.
Carson Gun is indeed a place where you can buy firearms, from handguns to rifles to high capacity magazine sport rifles, but the store is as much classroom and training facility as it is a gun store. We conducted the interview in a classroom, and Brooks escorted me into the simulator room where students use realistically weighted blue handguns to practice basic handling skills and the situational use of a firearm.
A screen on the wall in the big room with a 20 foot ceiling came to life as a target range, and Brooks shot at the targets. The sound of gunshots rang out of speakers. Bullet holes appeared where he aimed, and then he handed the gun to me.
Suddenly the wall became the vestibule of a bank with an ATM, and before me was a life-sized black man in a hoodie wielding a metal crowbar. He menaced me with obscenities and demands for money and finally came at me with the crowbar high above him. I made a decision and shot him in the shoulder. He fell to the ground.
I suppose it’s naive, but I came away from the event with a new realization about why people carry guns for personal protection: fear.
The next thing I knew I was standing in line in a bank, and a guy walks up to the teller, pulls out a handgun, shoots her in the head with blood spraying everywhere and jumps behind the counter and comes up firing at me. I returned fire but I fear too late and would have been killed in a real life situation, though I had to wonder about the numerical chances of ever being in such a firefight.
Seeing a person with a gun on their hip in a store or other public place in Carson City and surrounding areas is not at all unusual, but whenever I see a gun in public, I too am inspired by fear. I imagine taking cover in the plumbing section of Home Depot when the bullets start flying, for instance. I am reminded of mass shootings in Las Vegas, Parkland, Florida, Pittsburgh and Thousand Oaks … I think back to the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 while working at KRZA radio in Alamosa, CO and the fresh horror of a new type of crime spree.
In a larger sense, every time people are massacred in churches or concerts or schools, our society is left to reconsider gun laws that obviously do not adequately protect innocent citizens, but the political resolution is complex and marked by intransigence and rancor.
Gun rights advocates believe the right to bear arms as expressed in the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution is an immutable right of citizenship and dates to the formation of the Republic, so how do we protect people’s constitutional right to bear arms and also prevent mass shootings?
Randall Brooks expressed an utter contempt for those who kill innocent people with guns or otherwise and said he has recently consulted with a couple churches regarding security, but for Brooks, guns are not the problem.
“I’ve actually done a couple recent classes at churches teaching them about safety and how to address certain situations that they might find themselves in as well … the gun isn’t the problem,” Brooks said. “It’s the mentally disturbed individuals behind the gun that seem to be the problem, and a lot of times we seem to get away from that fact with some of the news media and news outlets that are sharing information. Unfortunately sometimes they don’t have all the information and they don’t have all the facts.”
Mental illness is a difficult condition to gauge. Sometimes mass shooters exhibit warning signs and sometimes they do not. Brooks said federal screening for mental illness is inadequate, and I asked him if he has ever refused to make a gun sale out of concern for the mental stability of the customer.
“Yeah, we have had less than savory individuals who come into our store,” Brooks said. “Where we’re located, we get a lot of different people walking through the area, so it’s normal with any business I suppose of dealing with people that aren’t on the same wavelength or level or mental capacity that you are. We treat everybody with respect and a little bit of caution. If there are some interesting signs that we don’t feel comfortable with, the staff here, myself, we all have the right to say yeah, we’re not gonna do this right now. There’s several ways of handling it whether it’s telling the person, ‘sorry, I’m not in a position to sell you a gun right now,’ or we turn around and we call a background check, and say, ‘ok, this person is unresolved and it’s gonna be a couple day delay,’ or something like that to stall them a little bit to feel them out, and sometimes that helps deter … things.”
Brooks said he has never had to refuse to sell a gun to a person who was obviously angry, but it is something that he and his staff think about.
“It is something we think about, and thankfully, knock on wood, we haven’t had anybody that’s come in with that ‘the hell with the world’ kind of attitude or mentality. I have had some people that were extremely depressed and discussed this is a means to an end for them because they are in stage 4 cancer and stuff like this,” Brooks said. “In which case we sit down and talk to them and try to show some compassion and give them some other options and help guide them a little bit, and sometimes you have to make a phone call to protective services or the sheriff’s department and have them go out and do a welfare check, just to make sure that person is OK and not going down a bad road.”
So what can we do to prevent mass shootings and suicides? Brooks said he does not support the notion of arming everyone and sighed before answering.
“Everyone has a Constitutional right to own a firearm, but everyone also has an individual responsibility to be responsible,” Brooks said. “I’ve seen a lot of people that have taken classes with a I know everything attitude and didn’t pass the class. I’ve had people look at me and say they’ve been carrying a gun for 50 years, and you’re not going to tell me I can’t. I’m sorry sir, if you do unsafe acts while we’re out at the range, it might not be good for you to continue to handle a firearm. Kind of like, you got that drivers licence and you’re 97 years old and you can’t see past the hood of the car. Same type of safety issue, or when do we let the government takeover and make sure that there’s a best interest for everybody versus the best interest for the one.”
At what point is a person judged to be mentally unfit to own a firearm?
“I don’t have a black or white answer for that,” Brooks said. “I think everyone has a right to protect themselves, and a firearm is a way of leveling the playing field for protection. We get into a car, we put on a seat-belt. That’s a form of protection. I have a couple fire extinguishers at my home. That’s a form of protection. I hope I never have to use them, just like a firearm, but if somebody was to come in and say, I don’t know if you’re responsible enough to own that fire extinguisher to protect your own house. If we replace gun with fire extinguisher, it’s kind of an interesting take. Where does the government stop … where does personal rights stop and start. I don’t think it’s going to be an easy decision by anyone anytime soon.”
For more from Randall Brooks, listen to the audio interview embedded above …