Gun-control advocates stymied by lawmakers’ inability to pass widely supported gun safety measures are turning their hopes this year to another arena: the ballot box.
Voters in four states will consider a handful of gun-control proposals Tuesday. The measures have drawn big-dollar support from national gun-control groups such as Everytown for Gun Safety, and enjoy significant fundraising advantages over opposition groups such as the National Rifle Association. Polling indicates all four measures are favored to pass.
Measures in Nevada and Maine would implement a system of universal background checks for gun shows and private sales, similar to existing laws in a number of other states. These types of laws are widely supported by the public, in principle — a recent Pew Research Center poll found that 79 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats favored background checks for gun shows and private sales.
Polls show between 50 percent and 60 percent of likely voters in Nevada support the background check measure there. Proponents have raised nearly $18 million so far, with $12.5 million coming from Everytown for Gun Safety and an additional $3.5 million coming from a personal contribution made by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Opponents have raised close to $5 million, nearly all of it coming from the NRA.
Similarly, in Maine, the overwhelming majority of money in support of the measure (close to $6 million in total) has come from Everytown for Gun Safety. Nearly all of the $1 million in opposition funding has come from the NRA.
Voters in Washington state approved a universal background check measure by a comfortable margin in 2014. This year, voters there will consider whether to allow authorities to issue “extreme risk protection orders” that would prevent people deemed to be at risk of harming themselves or others from buying firearms. In some cases, the orders could allow courts to remove firearms from the possession of high-risk owners.
Only four other states — California, Connecticut, Indiana and Texas — currently have similar laws on the books. Not many studies have been done on these measures, but preliminary research out of Connecticut suggests the gun removal law there has been effective at preventing suicides.
Polls show between 60 percent and 70 percent of voters in Washington say they support the measure. Supporters have raised more than $4 million dollars. Campaign funding in opposition to the measure is practically nonexistent.
Finally, the measure in California would require gun owners to obtain a permit for buying ammunition. It would also strengthen penalties for the violation of a large-capacity ammunition restriction passed by the legislature over the summer, create a court process for removing guns from the possession of people already prohibited from owning them and raise the penalty for the theft of certain firearms from a misdemeanor to a felony.
As elsewhere, supporters of the measure are outspending opponents. Much of the money in support of the initiative comes from the California Democratic Party and funds left over from Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s campaign. They’ve out-fundraised opponents, led by the NRA, by about 5 to 1.
Polling shows support for the bill hovering between 60 percent and 70 percent.
Overall, Everytown for Gun Safety has pledged about $25 million in support of the four measures this year. The group and its allies say they are taking a page from the state-by-state strategy adopted by same-sex marriage supporters in the mid-2000s.
For their part, opponents of the measures are promising to take their fight to the courts once the election is over.
“That may be the strategy, to beat this thing in court, rather than try to fight what seems like a quote-unquote ‘common-sense measure’ at the ballot box,” Washington gun rights activist Dave Workman recently told NPR.
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