Media commentators are highlighting “historic” gun safety victories on election night, including the passage of a background check ballot initiative in Washington state, the reelection of governors who passed the toughest gun safety laws in the wake of Newtown, and the recapture of Colorado state senate seats targeted by gun activists in a 2013 recall campaign. The media attention given to these victories stands in contrast to frequent reporting advancing the myth of the National Rifle Association's electoral dominance.
Washington Voters Overwhelmingly Approve Background Check Measure
MSNBC.com: In “The First Major Election Cycle Since” Newtown, Voters Approved Ballot Initiative 594 To Require Background Checks On All Gun Sales. A November 5 MSNBC article noted that expanded background checks passed easily while a competing ballot initiative promoted by gun lobby activists that would have weakened background checks was defeated by a majority of voters:
Gun control definitively won in Tuesday's elections -- in Washington, at least.
In the only state where a gun issue was directly on a ballot this week, Washington residents passed Initiative 594, the measure that will require criminal background checks on all firearms sales and transfers in the state, including at gun shows and on the Internet. The proposal, more commonly referred to as “I-594,” gained 60% of voter support, according to the NBC News Election Unit.
A rival campaign, Initiative 591, would have blocked the implementation of background checks, if passed. But more than half -- 55% -- of the state's residents rejected the competing measure, which was backed by the gun lobby.
This year marked the first major election cycle since 26 people, including 20 first-graders, were shot to death in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012. The outcome on Tuesday made Washington the seventh state to require background checks on all gun sales, and the fifth (after Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, and New York) to do so since the shooting inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. [MSNBC.com, 11/5/14]
Everytown For Gun Safety President John Feinblatt: Washington Victory “Proved The Polls Right -- When Americans Vote On Public Safety Measures To Prevent Gun Violence, Gun Safety Wins.” Everytown was a prominent backer of Washington's ballot initiative. [Huffington Post, 11/5/14]
Commentators Cite Background Check Victory As A Significant Moment In Gun Safety Push
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Politics Blog: 594 Supporters “Won An Historic Victory.” Columnist Joel Connelly noted that “Washington has become a national pacesetter on major social issues”:
Washington has become a national pacesetter on major social issues. Its voters legalized physician-assisted suicide in 2008. The Evergreen State voted to recognize same-sex civil unions in 2009. It voted in 2012 to legalize (and tax) recreational use of marijuana. Washington was one of the first three states where voters approved same-sex marriage.
The National Rifle Association has scored big past victories in this corner of America's “Left Coast.”
In 1997, gun safety advocates sponsored an initiative to require trigger locks on newly purchased weapons, and safety training for new gun owners. It led in the polls. The NRA moved in, brought in NRA President Charlton Heston and spent $3.5 million on negative TV ads and mailings. The initiative ended up with just 29 percent of the vote. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11/4/14]
The Atlantic Senior Editor David Frum: The National Rifle Association “Suffered A Historic Rebuke” With Referendum's Passage. In a November 5 article, Frum suggested that the “modest and compelling” background check ballot initiative could serve as a model for other states and criticized the NRA's tactic of opposing the measure “with a straightforward message of paranoia”:
This rare retreat by the NRA sets an example of how gun safety might be extended state-by-state in the years ahead. The initiative's effect is modest and compelling. Subject to a few carefully delineated exceptions (gifts between family members, loans of firearms to a person in imminent danger of bodily harm, genuine antiques that use ammunition no longer commercially sold, and so forth), any sale or transfer of any weapon must comply with the same terms and conditions that apply to a sale by a licensed gun dealer. In other words: no more gun show loophole. Gun shows may continue. Non-licensed venders may continue to offer guns at gun shows. But if a non-licensed vender finds a buyer, vender and buyer must proceed to a licensed gun dealer and submit the buyer's name for a background check before the sale can be legally completed.
What's the case against such a measure? The scenarios conjured by gun advocates to swing undecided voters sounded absurdly far-fetched: What about the woman who is being stalked--but who isn't literally in imminent harm--who can't get to a gun dealer for some reason to pass the background check herself--and wants to borrow a weapon from a friend? They rallied their base with a straightforward message of paranoia, that any measure to deny weapons to the mentally ill is the first step on the slippery slope to the total confiscation of all privately owned firearms, on the way to the imposition of a totalitarian regime across the United States. It's troubling that such a message can rally one-third of a state's voters. But the message of 594 is that while one-third may be enough to scare a congressman, it's not enough to halt a well-funded voter initiative. [The Atlantic, 11/5/14]
The Nation Washington Editor George Zornick: 594 Showed How To Beat The NRA. In a November 5 blog post, Zornick noted the Washington victory could be the start of a trend as a similar background check initiative will be on the ballot in 2016 in Nevada:
The victory is important well beyond Washington state, too--it's a model for other states to undertake similar reform while DC dithers. Nevada is already going to vote on a very similar measure in 2016, which will no doubt propel the issue into the presidential race since Nevada hosts key primaries for both parties and is also a valuable swing state.
Washington also demonstrated that the National Rifle Association can be beaten--it spent almost half a million dollars against the ballot initiative, but it didn't matter. Gun-reform groups showed they can come in with big money of their own and win crucial votes.
"[Washington voters] showed that while the gun lobby can intimidate politicians in Washington, it's a lot harder to intimidate America's voters," former US Representative Gabby Giffords said in a statement last night. “This victory for responsibility in Washington State sends a clear message to the other Washington that if Congress is not ready to act to reduce gun violence, voters in states around the country can and will take the matter into their own hands.” [The Nation, 11/5/14]
The New York Times Contributing Op-Ed Writer Timothy Egan: Passage Proves It's “Not Futile” To Pursue Gun Regulations After A School Shooting. From a November 5 opinion piece:
The saddest ritual cycle in modern life is a school shooting. Kids get killed. Yellow ribbons, balloons and guidance counselors appear. Everyone wonders why and how. And then, we shrug and feel helpless that nothing can be done because the all-powerful gun lobby will move mountains to ensure that crazy people can always get a firearm.
But all is not futile. Washington State just broke the pattern. More than a week ago, four students, including the shooter, were killed in a high school north of Seattle. And in Tuesday's election, voters approved of a ballot measure that is designed to keep felons, the mentally ill, people under certain kinds of restraining orders and others from buying weapons through unlicensed dealers -- mainly gun shows and through the Internet. [The New York Times, 11/5/14]
Governors That Signed Gun Safety Measures Into Law After Newtown Were Reelected
Politico: “Active Supporter Of Gun Control Legislation” John Hickenlooper Reelected As Colorado Governor. A November 5 article on Hickenlooper's reelection noted the governor's support for gun safety measures:
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has been reelected, fending off GOP challenger Bob Beauprez, according to The Associated Press.
Hickenlooper, a former Denver mayor, has also been an active supporter of gun control legislation. He signed a number of bills that limited magazine purchases and beefed up background checks, which prompted a recall vote against other state legislators. [Politico, 11/5/14]
NYT: Colorado Governor Race Partly “Hinged On” Debate Over Recently Enacted Gun Safety Laws. [The New York Times, 11/5/14]
NYT Describes How Victorious Governor Dannel Malloy “Made Connecticut A Laboratory For Progressive Policy” Including Stronger Gun Laws. The November 5 article described how Malloy's “stature grew” after Newtown and subsequent legislation championed by Malloy that banned assault weapons and strengthened background checks:
His stature grew after the mass shooting in a Newtown elementary school, which prompted him to seek and sign a gun control bill in 2013 that banned many models of assault-style weapons and large ammunition magazines and required background checks.
Toni Lupinacci, a registered Republican and mother of two from Stamford, crossed party lines to vote for Mr. Malloy because of his gun control stance “first and foremost,” she said, adding, “None of us want to see any more tragedies.”
Even beyond the gun control bill, Mr. Malloy, the state's first Democratic governor since 1986, made Connecticut a laboratory for progressive policy. Connecticut became the first state in the country to heed Mr. Obama's call for a higher minimum wage, enacted mandatory paid sick leave and ended the death penalty. [The New York Times, 11/5/14]
The Wall Street Journal: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Reelected After Campaigning On “Instituting A Strict Gun-Control Law.” From a November 5 article:
During the campaign, Mr. Cuomo, 56 years old, focused on his record of achievement, highlighting his social accomplishments--particularly legalizing same-sex marriage and instituting a strict gun-control law. He also emphasized how much more functional Albany has become, touting the on-time budgets and spending restraint of recent years. [The Wall Street Journal, 11/5/14]
Democratic Senators Who Helped NRA Sink Background Check Legislation Were Defeated
Contrary to earlier media claims that senators who supported background checks would be punished by the National Rifle Association and the electorate, Democrats were defeated for re-election regardless of their position on the legislation and Democrats who opposed the legislation were abandoned by the NRA.
NYT: “Dan Sullivan Leads” Alaska Democrat Mark Begich “By 3.6 Pt. With 100% Reporting.” Begich was one of five Democrats to vote against the post-Sandy Hook background check bill in the U.S. Senate. [The New York Times, accessed 11/5/14, OpenSecrets.org, accessed 11/5/14]
CBSNews.com: Despite Voting With NRA 100 Percent Of The Time On Gun Legislation, The NRA Declined To Endorse Begich. An NRA spokesperson suggested to CBSNews.com that the NRA refused to endorse Begich because he voted for Supreme Court nominees Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor:
[NRA spokesperson Andrew] Arulanandam said Begich would have gotten a higher grade and the NRA's endorsement if he had not voted for President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominees, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Both were opposed by the NRA.
On gun votes, Begich has stood with NRA members 100 percent of the time, Arulanandam said.
After a deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Arulanandam noted, Begich did not bow to pressure, even from within his own party, to support tighter background checks for buyers and a ban on assault weapons. Both of those proposals ultimately failed. [CBSNews.com, 9/25/14]
The NRA Spent $0 In Support Of Begich's Reelection Campaign. [OpenSecrets.org, accessed 11/5/14]
CNN: Democrat Mark Pryor Defeated By Republican Tom Cotton In Arkansas Senate Race. [CNN.com, 11/4/14]
The Associated Press Race Recap: Pryor Started Running Ads After Being Criticized For Vote Against Background Checks. From a November 5 article:
Pryor ran his first television ads over the summer in 2013, as he faced criticism from gun control groups over his opposition to legislation expanding background checks for firearms purchases.
Months later, Cotton launched his bid against the two-term lawmaker. [The Associated Press via The Miami Herald, 11/5/14]
Everytown For Gun Safety: Massive NRA Spending For Pryor's Opponent Shows That “With Friends Like The NRA, Who Needs Enemies.” From a November 5 New York Daily News blog post:
“Senator Pryor has learned the hard way that courting the gun lobby doesn't always buy its support,” [Everytown for Gun Safety] said. “Even though Senator Pryor voted in lockstep with the NRA to oppose background checks, they spent more than $2.9 million this cycle to oppose his re-election. When Senator Pryor voted against background checks, he claimed he 'listens to Arkansas', despite the 84% of Arkansans who support background checks. The message from Arkansas tonight is loud and clear - with friends like the NRA, who needs enemies?” [New York Daily News, 11/5/14]
The NRA Spent Nearly $3 Million Supporting Pryor's Opponent. [OpenSecrets.org, accessed 11/5/14]
Gun Safety Candidate Takes Back Colorado State Senate Seat For Democrats
Democrats Recapture Colorado Senate Seats Flipped In Recall Election Over Gun Laws. Democrats won state senate seats in Pueblo and Colorado Springs, two districts targeted with recall elections by gun advocates angry with Colorado's new gun laws in 2013. In one of the races a former employee of gun safety group Mayors Against Illegal Guns defeated the owner of a gun range. According to the Associated Press, “The recalls were watched nationally as a test for lawmakers who back gun control but the lesson now isn't very clear.” [The Associated Press via 9News, 11/5/14]
FLASHBACK: The NRA's Disastrous 2012 Election Spending
Open Government Group The Sunlight Foundation Catalogued The NRA's Low “Return On Investment” In 2012 Federal Elections. A large majority of nearly $18 million spent by the NRA either was spent for NRA-backed candidates who lost or against NRA-opposed candidates who won:
[The Sunlight Foundation, accessed 11/5/14]
[The Sunlight Foundation, accessed 11/5/14]
Media Matters Analysis: NRA Lost In Six Of Seven Senate Races Where They Spent Over $100,000. [Media Matters, 11/7/2012]