Bullet Initiatives

Voters in Washington state decisively approved a ballot measure that closes the “gun-show loophole” by requiring almost all gun sales to be transacted through a dealer, so that buyers are subject to background checks. Kate Pickert discusses how state-level referenda are becoming the new focal point for gun control advocates:

The new national strategy is to largely bypass Congress, where recent gun control efforts have gotten little traction even in the wake of the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. Instead, gun control activists say they are redirecting their attention and money to states—and to voters directly. … Appealing to voters through ballot initiatives has helped advance other progressive causes in recent years, including minimum wage increases and the legalization of medical marijuana. It’s a lesson gun control advocates have taken to heart. “I think it does represent a subtle shift,” says Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who favors gun control. “What we’re seeing is a renewed effort by gun control advocates to take this issue to the voters directly.”

Frum approves of the new strategy:

When Michael Bloomberg and other deep-pocketed donors pledged themselves to gun reform after Sandy Hook, some observers imagined that he and they would waste their resources besieging the NRA on battlefields of the NRA’s choosing: state legislatures where intensely committed minorities can thwart even large-but-less-engaged majorities. The success of 594 in Washington shows the way to a very different political contest, in which majorities can make themselves felt over and against small pressure groups. Look for more such initiatives in 2016—a year when, with a president on the ballot, the electorate will be both larger and less conservative than in 2014. 594 is not the turning of the tide, of course. But it’s a harbinger of a possible new politics of guns, in which the nation’s gun rules will no longer be written by a fanatical and fearful minority of a minority.

But Charles Cooke downplays the significance of the vote:

This will presumably be touted as a great victory. But it’s really not. For a start, universal background checks represent the most modest of all the Left’s aims in this area. This was not a ban on “assault” weapons, which remain legal in Washington. It was not a reduction in magazine sizes. It was not a ban on open carry. Instead, it was a law that requires residents of the state to involve a gun dealer when they transfer a weapon to another resident within the state. (Transfers between immediate family members and between spouses or domestic partners are exempt.) I’m against these rules because I think that they are pointless and because they seem invariably to ensnare innocent and unaware people. Nevertheless, the significance of Washington’s having adopted the measure should not be overstated. That a blue state such as Washington should have convinced only 6 out of 10 people to support a billionaire-backed law that does very little in reality is a testament to the strength of support for the right to keep and bear arms even in nominally progressive areas.

And at the same time, Alabama voters approved a constitutional amendment affirming the right to bear arms and instructing the judiciary to apply strict scrutiny to any restriction thereof.