While Congress has repeatedly failed to act on gun safety legislation, voters in four states will take the issue into their own hands this November.
In California, voters will decide on a ballot measure to ban large-capacity magazines. In Nevada and Maine, they’ll decide whether to expand background checks. And in Washington, they can decide to take guns off the hands of potentially dangerous people.
The four ballot measures constitute just one, but potentially the most effective, manner in which gun safety advocates are pushing their agenda this November. Gun safety groups have also said they will target vulnerable, pro-gun members of Congress and hold them accountable for their votes against what they call “common sense” gun legislation.
But groups like Everytown for Gun Safety know that ballot measures can be one of the most effective ways to pass reform when Congress refuses to act. The state-level focus mirrors the successful efforts in favor of same-sex marriage over the last decade. And some of the greatest gun reforms have been made at the ballot box, including two years ago when Washington voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to expand background checks.
“For too long, there has been a disconnect between what the American people demand on gun safety and how American politicians vote,” Everytown President John Feinblatt said in a statement last month about the ballot measures.
The measures are unnerving the National Rifle Association, the nation’s largest gun lobby which has committed millions of dollars to the 2016 election and has said it is committed to “defeating the gun control ballot initiatives.”
“After decades of legislative and electoral defeat, the gun control lobby has resorted to buying gun control by spending [Michael] Bloomberg’s billions to impose his New York style gun-control through the ballot initiative process,” Jennifer Baker, an NRA spokesperson, told The Hill.
Here are the four measures on the ballot this November:
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who is running for governor in 2018, spearheaded an effort in the state to get voters to decide on the “Safety for All Act.” The initiative received enough signatures in June to appear on the ballot.
Big news- CA will take on the NRA + vote to end gun violence. Yesterday Safety for All qualified for CA Nov. Ballot! https://t.co/raNozi1tKb
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) June 24, 2016
The measure, if enacted, would require background checks for all bullet buyers and impose a ban on ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds. It would also mandate felony charges for gun thefts and would implement a strict process for getting guns out of the hands of felons and other people prohibited from owning firearms.
Democratic lawmakers hoped that the state legislature could pass the same measures this session and avoid putting them on a ballot, but legislative efforts failed.
“The initiative makes reforms the legislature has failed to enact, as well as others the legislature isn’t even considering, and others that they simply don’t have the authority to legally address,” Newsom said to Senate leader Kevin de León (D).
A recent poll found that 80 percent of Californians support background checks for sales of ammunition. But pro-gun groups claim that the state already has some of the strictest gun laws, and the measure would not do anything to prevent crime. The NRA has called the proposals “unworkable and ill-advised” and has vowed to fight “this Draconian anti-gun initiative every step of the way.”
Voters in Nevada will decide on a measure that has been repeatedly voted down in Congress — closing the background check loophole and requiring background checks for private gun sales.
Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), who vetoed legislation that would make those reforms in 2013, is opposing the measure. He said earlier this month that it would “unnecessarily restrict rights of law-abiding Nevadans.”
While the NRA opposes any form of gun control, Question 1 is the only state ballot measure that the group is dedicating resources and spending a large amount of money to oppose.
“We all know that this measure has nothing to do with safety or addressing crime and would only impact law-abiding Nevadans,” the NRA wrote on its website in April.
In Maine, voters will also have the option to expand background checks to all gun sales and to close the loophole that allows people to buy guns without screening through private sellers or from non-licensed sellers at gun shows.
Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense, an affiliate of Bloomberg’s Everytown, drove the effort to collect signatures to get the measure on the ballot.
Pro-gun Gun Owners of Maine called the proposal “the most sweeping infringement on gun rights in Maine history” and the NRA has called it an “unnecessary and unenforceable proposal.”
So far, Bloomberg and gun control groups have outspent the NRA, but the gun lobby is expected to ramp up their opposition as the election nears.
In Washington, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility proposed and collected signatures for Initiative 1491, which would take guns out of the hands of people who are considered threats.
Concerned family members, partners, housemates, or law enforcement officials would be able to file an affidavit listing the concern — mental illness or domestic violence. If a judge determines that the person is a threat to themselves or others, his guns would be taken away and he would be prevented from purchasing weapons for up to a year.
The measure would be similar to one that failed in the state legislature earlier this year. Currently, only California, Indiana, and Connecticut currently have similar laws on the books.
In 2014, Washington voters easily approved a measure to expand background checks to all gun sales in the state.