By Chris W. Cox
NRA-ILA Executive Director
The 2014 elections were a huge win for the Second Amendment. Gun owners played a key role in electing new pro-gun state legislators, governors, congressional representatives and senators. Without that effort, we could have been facing a nightmare combination of a President Barack Obama hell-bent on advancing his extreme agenda—regardless of the Constitution—and weaker support in Congress for our right to bear arms.
Instead, we have a chance to stop him from winning passage of new federal gun restrictions, and the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) will be at the forefront of the fight to do just that. But even though we just completed an expensive and hard-fought election, we already are facing huge challenges for 2016. Of course, we have a presidential race coming, and our hard-won pro-gun leadership in the U.S. Senate is threatened. Now, our opponents have embraced another way to attack our rights—ballot initiatives—and they are pulling out all the stops to use this tool in new and damaging ways.
In 2014, the pro-gun side won nearly every contested race. But there was one exception. The voters of Washington state, after being bombarded with misleading information, passed Initiative 594 (I-594). I-594 radically expands the requirements for background checks to the point that even lending a gun to a friend for a few hours is illegal without fees and government paperwork (and registration, in the case of handguns). The people of Washington state are just starting to learn the real negative impact of this ill-conceived proposal.
But our opponents are focusing on that victory as an opportunity and are looking to expand that game plan to other states that have the ballot initiative process.
So, what is a “ballot initiative?” Simply put, it is a provision included in the constitutions of 24 states that allows the voters—or more commonly, national organizations that purport to represent the voters—to put a legislative proposal on the ballot. The rules and procedures vary from state to state, but in general, supporters of a proposal have a set amount of time to gather a specific number of signatures to win inclusion of their proposal on the ballot. Those signatures must be verified as authentic, and they must come from registered voters in that state.
Fourteen of the 24 states that have an initiative process provide that if the requisite number of signatures are collected, the issue automatically goes on the ballot. The remaining states provide that the legislature must first take action.
A ballot initiative is what ushered in the private transfer ban in Washington state. And our opponents think they have found a way to win when they regularly fail to convince elected legislators to do their bidding.
Anti-gunners know that legislators, armed with accurate and reliable information about firearm issues, usually reject their radical agenda, but uninformed—or, more accurately, misinformed—voters are often more vulnerable to emotional, but baseless, arguments that are the stock and trade of the anti-gun movement.
At the forefront of these campaigns are the groups that billionaire ex-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has funded with millions of dollars. This past election, he spent more than $50 million, and we can safely assume he will spend even more in 2016.
We must be vigilant in gathering information about the initiative process in our states, and we must be aware of the proposals that are being advanced through this method. We have to be on the lookout for people gathering signatures. We have to know what the issues really are and refuse to sign any petition to put any anti-gun proposal on the ballot. And we need to make sure our friends, family and others are fully informed about the truth of these proposals and also know not to be too quick to sign on the dotted line.
NRA-ILA is already chasing down the information on proposed initiatives and will make that information known in our magazines and on NRAILA.org.
This is the challenge we face. But it is also our opportunity. If we all do the work now, and over the next 18 months, we can make a huge impact on the future of our Second Amendment rights. NRA-ILA is ready to do more than we ever have, but we need the active help of every gun owner in America. With that support, we can win another huge victory in November 2016.
James W. Porter II, PRESIDENT
Allan Cors, FIRST VICE PRESIDENT
Pete Brownell, SECOND VICE PRESIDENT
Wayne LaPierre, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT
Edward J. Land Jr., SECRETARY
Wilson H. Phillips Jr., TREASURER
Kyle Weaver, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GENERAL OPERATIONS
Christopher W. Cox, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR LEGISLATIVE ACTION