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The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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Originally published in Shotgun News Magazine

Despite the Constitution, only in Vermont (and now Alaska) can Americans carry a concealed firearm without a government “permit,” and not worry about being put in jail.

So, wishing to do their part to keep the crime rate down (John Lott and Prof. David Mustard having proven that crime rates drop in every jurisdiction that “allows civilians” to carry firearms), some 8,450 residents of Clark County (Las Vegas) -- about 14,000 Nevadans, statewide -- have gone through the onerous process of acquiring a Nevada Concealed Firearms Permit.

It’s not easy or cheap. You have to take a $100 class, pass a written safety exam, demonstrate safe gun handling and marksmanship at a shooting range, submit to fingerprinting and being “mug-shotted” like a common criminal, pay the state another $105, and then wait three months (or more) for an FBI criminal background check.

To induce us mostly well-behaved old geezers to participate in this dangerous conversion of a right into a “privilege,” the organizers offered us a few minimal advantages of cost and convenience. While Nevadans without such permits have to pay $25 to have an FBI criminal background check run each time they purchase a firearm, serious gun owners and shooters were told that as a fringe benefit of acquiring the concealed carry permit was that we’d be allowed to buy firearms without undergoing (and paying for) a new $25 “Brady” check each time.

Guess what?

In an Oct. 13 letter, Major Robert Wideman of the division of the Nevada Department of Public Safety (state police) that handles the background checks here advises Nevada gun dealers “that the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has informed the state of Nevada that the Nevada Carry Concealed Weapon (CCW) permit no longer qualifies as an alternative to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. ... Beginning Oct. 23, 2005, all firearms transferred to a CCW permit holder are subject to a NICS check, prior to the actual transfer, in the same manner as non-permit holders. ...”

What will be the immediate impact of this change, pulled off on a mere 10 days notice, without any chance for public input?

“We’re not going to sell as many guns,” says Rance Spurlock of Spurlock’s Gun Shop in Henderson, a mostly hunting oriented shop. “I’d venture to say our gun sales are a 50-50 mix,” between CCW holders and those without permits. “That’s the main reason a lot of guys got the CCW, is the volume of guns they buy.”

Other local dealers echo the 50-50 mix. The CCW holders may be a minority of gun buyers, but since many are collectors, they represent about half of weapons sold. That means the number of background-check phone calls could instantly double next week. And that could mean busy signals and delays, which means lost sales.

Rance says he’s been told the state office that handles the background checks is already interviewing new staff to handle that growth, but that it could take four to five months before that new staff is up to speed.

“And what good is new staff if you can’t get through on the phone lines?” asks Glen Parshall, a federally licensed gun dealer employed by Bargain Pawn, near Jerry’s Nugget in North Las Vegas. “This weekend (at the gun show at Cashman Field) I couldn’t get through for hours for the busy signals. I finally gave up.”

Glen will complete such stalled sales only if the customers look him up at his shop the following week.

Major Wideman of the Nevada Department of Public Safety denies any new staff is being hired to deal with an expected increase in telephoned background checks, from the current level of about 50,000 per year.

Needless to say, everything that makes gun-buying more cumbersome and more expensive reduces gun sales. Eventually, more gun stores close and give up their Federal Firearms Licenses -- the reduction of the number of FFL holders having been a stated goal of the BATF for decades.


Where did this all come from?

“The bottom line is, not all the jurisdictions that issue CCWs conduct a background check that includes a NICS check, and that’s required by law,” Mary Lerch, director of industry operations for the San Francisco field division of the BATFE, told me on Oct. 19.

Neither she nor Major Wideman would tell me which Nevada county sheriffs have allegedly been handing out the permits without running the required background checks.

Why not just tell gun dealers to stop honoring permits from those specific counties?

“We don’t deal with the individual jurisdictions. We only deal with states. It’s up to the states,” Ms. Lerch replied.

And if the Nevada authorities somehow cracked down on these wayward cow-county sheriffs?

“Then ATF would revisit the issue, yes.”

But not really. Ms. Lerch said there’s also a problem with the fact Nevada’s CCWs are good for five years. “That could be an issue. Someone could become a prohibited person” (by being convicted of a felony) “during the 5-year period.”

Ms. Lerch could not name me a single case where someone with a Nevada CCW which had become invalid has used it to escape a background check -- let alone to buy a gun that was subsequently used in a crime. Nor does all this rigmarole stop real felons from acquiring guns, of course.

Twenty-six-year-old Charles Walker, who recently withdrew his guilty plea, previously admitted to shooting good samaritan tourist Thomas Latimer to death during an armed robbery at a Las Vegas McDonald’s last January. Walker had just been released from a federal prison for bank robbery at the time of the slaying. “Prohibited persons” obviously have no trouble acquiring guns on the street; they do not pay for $25 background checks.

What the heck happened to initiate this change, after so many years with no reported problems?

“The ATF was reviewing the exemptions” when the problems with the cow counties were discovered, Ms. Lerch said.

Aha. In how many states did the government previously promise CCW holders an exemption from the costly and inconvenient Brady background checks, and how many of those exemptions are now being taken away?

Ms. Lerch claimed she did not know, referring inquiries to chief BATFE Public Information Officer Sheree Mixell in Washington. Neither she nor her assistant returned my calls.

I called the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, expecting our local elected sheriff’s office would take our side against these weasly federals, changing the rules of the game to the detriment and expense of gun owners, as usual. Fat chance.

“This was largely supported by the counties, including our agency,” said Sergeant Chris Jones, at Metro’s Office of Public Information. “As far as we’re concerned it’s a good thing, because those permits are good for five years. This prevents someone” (who has committed a felony and thus become ineligible within the life of that five-year permit) “from going out of state somewhere and showing our permit and buying a firearm. It gave them a free pass, and now it doesn’t.”

“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” replies Glen Parshall. “They can’t go out of state and use a Nevada CCW to buy a gun. The federal form has a place to check off ‘No NICS check is required because the buyer has a CCW from the state where the transfer is going to take place.’ ”

Mary Lerch of the BATFE confirmed that -- the exemption was for in-state sales only.

“It’s like a suspended driver’s license, you can have it but it’s not valid,” Sgt. Jones explained.

“That’s not true,” Glen Parshall replies. “When my ex-wife filed a restraining order against me they came right to my door the next morning and knocked on the door and took away my permit, and I had to go to court to get it all straightened out. So they do have a policy and they do come and take it away.”

All Nevada’s sheriffs agreed not to fight this change, explains Lt. Paul Howell of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, who chairs the CCW subcommittee of the Nevada Sheriff & Chiefs Association, because the only way to please the BATFE would be to issue annual permits, or perform random annual audits of 50 to 70 percent of permit holders, which would be prohibitively expensive for the short-staffed rural counties.

“This Point-of-Sale exemption has been going away for years,” Lt. Howell told me. “Police officers no longer have a POS exemption except for their primary duty weapon. That changed about five years ago.”


As this issue of SGN was going to press, The Associated Press reported out of Carson City on Nov. 8: “Nevada sheriffs and police chiefs, reversing an earlier decision, are pushing to exempt gun owners with concealed weapons permits from federally required background checks and $25-per-transaction fees when buying new guns.

“The move by the Nevada Sheriff’s and Chief’s Association, announced Monday, reverses an earlier decision to not press for the exemption that until recently had been allowed by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives,” The AP continued.

“The federal agency changed the rules on the exemptions following an audit that found, among other things, that sheriff’s departments in the state hadn’t been conducting annual updates on concealed weapon permit holders.

“Frank Adams, executive director of the sheriffs and chiefs association, said last month that law enforcement lacked the staff to do the annual updates. But following complaints from some gun owners, the association headed by Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini changed its original plan against pressing for the exemptions. ...

“The sheriff’s and chief’s association asked the state Department of Public Safety to seek an extension from the federal agency that would run until April. Adams said that would provide time to ‘work out an understanding’ between the sheriffs and the BATFE. ...”

We’ll keep you posted.

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