06/10/2013 05:49 pm ET

Nevada Background Checks Bill Becomes Focus Of National Gun Control Fight


WASHINGTON--Gun control advocates are pushing states to pass gun background check legislation while continuing to press Congress for federal reform.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the author of compromise federal legislation, said Friday that chances were 50-50 that the Senate would pass a background check bill this year. Meantime, Democrats and national gun control advocacy groups have lobbied Nevada legislators to expand background checks to almost all private gun sales.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) is has threatened to veto the bill passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature. If he does, he would be the first governor to veto a gun control measure since the Newtown, Conn., elementary school massacre.

The struggle hasn't daunted Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

"I called legislators myself the other day," Wasserman Schultz told HuffPost. "We wanted to make it clear that this is a national priority. It's important to the president. It's important for the country, and if it takes us calling individual legislators to do that, that's what we'll do."

Wasserman Schultz's efforts in Nevada have been joined by groups that include Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the organization backed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Americans for Responsible Solutions, the PAC founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband, Mark Kelly. Kelly met with Nevada legislators. Representatives from Mayors Against Illegal Guns did as well. The group ran an ad in favor of the bill and hired lobbyists. The group did polling that showed that 86 percent of Nevadans backed background checks. The National Rifle Association hired lobbyists to oppose the legislation.

"I think it's pretty clear that we helped," John Feinblatt, chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told HuffPost. "Mayors, law enforcement, gun owners -- all part of our group -- made sure our voices were heard."

The Nevada Assembly passed the bill by a 23-19 vote last week. The measure appeared doomed until State Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz threw her support for the bill. "I'm thinking of the domestic violence victims," she said, according to the Las Vegas Sun. "This could make our community safe." The state Senate passed it by a party-line 11-10 vote on May 22.

Despite Sandoval's threat of veto, gun groups have been urging the governor to sign. "It would be a shame after both chambers of the Nevada legislature are voting to protect the citizens of Nevada that one man would stand in the way and side with the gun lobby over the citizens whom he leads," said Feinblatt. Sandoval's office has been flooded with calls urging him to veto it, getting 2,200 last Wednesday, The Associated Press reported.

Whatever the outcome, Giffords' group sees the Nevada fight as pivotal to future state battles. "Apparently Congress hasn't gotten the message that Americans want to see progress on background checks. But many state legislatures have," said Pia Carusone, executive director of Americans for Responsible Solutions. "Members of Congress should follow the lead of these state legislators who are listening to the American people."

Mayors Against Illegal Guns will continue the fight in other states. "Where we can help, we are going to help," said Feinblatt. "It's important for states to make a choice between siding with the gun lobby or keeping their citizens safe."

Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.



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