Rural Nevada sheriffs balk at strict gun background law
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A second rural Nevada sheriff cited the Second Amendment in vowing Thursday not to enforce a strict new gun buyer background check law approved by the state Legislature.
Nye County Sheriff Sharon Wehrly joined Sheriff Jesse Watts of Eureka County in promising to defy the law that Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak pushed for as a memorial to victims of the October 2017 Las Vegas Strip massacre that became the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
“In Germany prior to WWII we saw Hitler place restrictions on the public’s right to bear arms,” Wehrly said in a letter to Sisolak. “I agree with Sheriff Watts. I will not participate in the enforcement of this new law and certainly won’t stand silent.”
The Nevada law requires a background check by a licensed dealer on anyone buying or receiving a gun from an unlicensed person.
The two Nevada sheriffs became part of a “Second Amendment sanctuary” sentiment emerging in sheriff’s offices and statehouses in several states in the U.S. West including Washington and New Mexico.
Sheriffs in about half of Washington’s 39 counties have said they won’t enforce that state’s new gun sale background check law until the courts decide whether it’s constitutional.
In New Mexico, most sheriffs have vowed not to enforce a background check law that Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham promises to sign. Like Wehrly and Watts, opponents there argue the law burdens lawful gun owners and will be difficult to enforce.
Watts, in his Feb. 19 letter to Sisolak in Nevada, used language identical to Wherly to declare they would not stand by while “citizens are turned into criminals due to the unconstitutional actions of misguided politicians.”
“I really don’t think the infrastructure is in place to enforce it,” Wehrly added in an interview with The Associated Press. “We have a lot of people here that really love their guns and they don’t like the idea that the state is going to put constraints on them.”
Nye County Commission Chairman John Koenig said he thinks his four colleagues will join him voting Monday to support Wehrly’s position. Elected officials in rural Elko and Lyon counties are among those considering similar measures.
“We’re not Clark County,” Koenig said, comparing his sprawling county and its sparse 44,000 residents with the Las Vegas area and its 2.2 million residents and 40 million tourists a year. “We’re rural. We believe we should be allowed to carry our weapons.”
The governor’s spokeswoman, Helen Kalla, acknowledged Sisolak and Democratic state Attorney General Aaron Ford received the two sheriffs’ letters.
In a statement, Sisolak promised to work with sheriffs “to review ways to enforce this law, as is the case with all other Nevada laws that elected officers are sworn to uphold.”
The background check law is due to go into effect next January, more than three years after voters statewide narrowly approved an initiative to close what proponents called a legal loophole that lets gun purchasers skip background screenings when buying from another person or online.
Max Samis, spokesman for Brady, the name-shortened advocacy group that campaigns against gun violence, declared Thursday that sheriffs and police officers can’t just ignore the law.
“It’s the responsibility of these officers to enforce the law, not to decide which laws they want to enforce,” he said.
Associated Press writers Nicholas K. Geranios in Spokane, Washington, and Mary Hudetz in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed to this report.