Police, victim advocates call for expanded background checks on gun purchases


Ric Anderson

Rick McCann, executive director of the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers, gives an interview Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, after a news conference in which he expressed support for a ballot measure to expand background checks for gun purchases in Nevada. McCann was joined at the news conference by Julie Proctor, executive director of Safe House, former Clark County Assistant District Attorney Teresa Lowry, retired Metro Police homicide Lt. Ray Steiber and retired Metro Deputy Chief Al Salinas.

Tue, Oct 25, 2016 (12:49 p.m.)

Travis Spitler was barred by law from buying a gun, but he easily found a way around the restriction.

Spitler connected with a private seller and lied about his background, which included an open domestic violence case in Arizona and a domestic protective order filed against him.

And just like that, Spitler purchased the .357-caliber revolver he used to kill his ex-girlfriend, Christina Franklin, and wound her two children before turning the gun on himself.

Franklin’s murder, which occurred in May as she was dropping off the children at a North Las Vegas day care center, was a focal point Tuesday during a news conference featuring a domestic violence victim advocate and law enforcement officers expressing support for the upcoming ballot question on whether to expand gun background checks in Nevada.

“Had Question 1 been the law in Nevada, the seller would have been required to meet Spitler at a licensed gun dealer for a background check, which Spitler would have failed, and he might never have gotten the gun he used in Christina’s murder,” said Julie Proctor, executive director of Safe House.

Under current law, background checks must be conducted on purchases and transfers of firearms from licensed dealers, but not from private sellers on the internet, at gun shows and elsewhere. The ballot initiative would extend the background check requirement to private gun sales, with some exceptions such as sales or transfers between immediate family members and during shooting competitions.

Rick McCann, executive director of the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers, said that in states with more expansive background checks, there was less gun trafficking, domestic violence and assaults on women than in states without them.

“This is very important as we recognize October as the National Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” McCann said. “An investigation of online gun buyers shows that nearly 1 in 11 people shopping for a gun in Nevada without a background check has a criminal record that prohibits them from buying a gun under federal law, such as a conviction for a felony or domestic abuse.”

Teresa Lowry, a former Clark County assistant district attorney, said Nevada’s domestic violence homicide rate by firearm was 65 percent higher than the national average, making it the fifth most dangerous state in the nation for women between 2008 and 2012.

“In the 18 states with similar (expanded background check) laws, there are 46 — 46 — percent fewer women shot and killed by their intimate partners,” she said. “We can be the next state to see that reduction and save lives.”

Supporters of the ballot measure pointed out that the existing background check system had blocked more than 5,300 gun purchases, including more than 2,000 to fugitives and more than 1,200 to felons.

Opponents contend the measure criminalizes legal behavior among responsible gun owners, such as lending weapons to each other, and will be ineffective because criminals will find ways to obtain guns illegally, among other criticisms.

McCann, whose organization represents about 1,500 police officers, prison guards and probation officers statewide, acknowledged that the measure wouldn’t eliminate unlawful gun purchases.

“I can go out on the street today and buy all kinds of things on the black market,” he said. “I can buy guns; I can buy drugs; you can even buy children. I’m not suggesting that market will go away because of Question 1. This law simply says to people (trying to buy guns illegally), ‘We know you’re out there. We’re going to give you that one more hurdle to jump over.’”

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