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State-and-regional
Vegas prosecutor joins Nevada gun background checks lawsuit

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The district attorney in Las Vegas joined backers of an expanded gun background check ballot measure on Wednesday asking a judge to order the governor and state attorney general to enforce a gun control law approved by Nevada voters more than a year ago.

Clark County District Court Judge Joe Hardy set a Feb. 12 hearing on core questions in the case, after accepting an agreement to let District Attorney Steve Wolfson’s office weigh in on a lawsuit filed less than two weeks after a mass shooting killed 58 people and injured almost 550 at an open-air concert on the Las Vegas Strip.

A deputy to Wolfson attended the schedule-setting hearing, and the district attorney didn’t immediately respond afterward to messages.

Attorney Mark Ferrario, representing three plaintiffs who worked toward passage of Question 1 in November 2016, referred to what he called “an overriding public safety issue” and sought a speedy hearing.

“We have, obviously, the ballot initiative that was passed,” Ferrario told the judge, offering a thumbnail outline of legal issues the judge will be asked to decide.

The case stems from an initiative mandating FBI background checks on private-party gun sales that passed in November 2016 by less than 1 percentage point margin after Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed a similar measure in 2013.

Ferrario referred to a December 2016 decision by state Attorney General Adam Laxalt calling the law unenforceable because the FBI wouldn’t take on the background checks role.

That decision traces to an agreement by Nevada in 1998 to have the state Department of Public Safety, not the FBI, conduct background checks for gun sales by federally licensed firearm sellers.

Ferrario also cited the federal Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, which gives states the option of checking the criminal backgrounds of gun buyers themselves or through the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.

“You’ll have to look at the opinions rendered by the (state) attorney general,” Ferrario told the judge. “You’re going to have to consider, obviously, the role of the governor. You’re going to get into the Brady Act a bit. And then you’re going to see what is going on around the country.”

Wolfson in 2016 was the highest-profile law enforcement official in Nevada to endorse the ballot measure requiring gun buyer background checks through a licensed gun dealer when most firearms change hands. Proponents said the initiative closed a legal loophole letting buyers obtain weapons from unlicensed private gun owners on the internet and at gun shows.

On Nov. 15, the Las Vegas district attorney joined Los Angeles City Attorney Michael Feuer and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance in calling for immediate action in Nevada. They said the state law could keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, stalkers and felons.

The Oct. 1 shooter, Stephen Paddock, passed a background check when purchasing firearms in Nevada stores. But the prosecutors called the shooting “a sobering reminder of what can happen because of just one violent person.”