What Does I-594 Mean Going Forward? It Means Trouble For The NRA

As expected, in Washington I-594 won and I-591 lost.  The margins of victory and defeat were about equal, which meant that, at least in this state, voters know how to read because the way the two propositions were worded, a ‘yes’ vote on both would have effectively cancelled them out. But proponents of gun safety were smart enough to see through the cynical ploy by Alan Gottlieb, who uses a non-profit called the 2nd Amendment Foundation to disguise what is a very successful right-wing direct mail operation and he put- 591 on the ballot because he knew that I-594 was going to pass.

Basically, I-594 makes Washington the sixth state to restrict all gun transactions to NICS checks.  This closes what has always been considered a major loophole in the effort to keep guns out of the “wrong hands” because in those states where all gun transfers must go through NICS, a person with a criminal record or other disqualifying issue would not be able to get a gun no matter when or where the gun became available, as opposed to the current system in which individuals who do not meet legal qualifications for gun ownership can only be denied gun ownership at the initial point of sale.

nics                The NRA has steadfastly rejected an expansion of background checks because, they claim, it targets law-abiding citizens while doing nothing to prevent crime.  Imagine, says the NRA, “if your mother had a prowler at her home, having to do a background check on your own Mom before you could give her one of your guns for protection.”  Now I can’t figure out how someone’s going to get a gun to dear old Mom when the prowler is already in her home, but that’s hardly the only thing the NRA says about armed defense that I can’t figure out.  Without a shred of evidence-based data they have been tirelessly promoting the idea that an armed America is a safer America for the last twenty years, but why let facts stand in the way of a good marketing campaign, right?

The good news is that the voters in Washington didn’t buy this nonsense and, the last time I looked, were approving I-594 by a margin of nearly 20 points.  Taking this issue directly to the voters was a smart move for the issue’s supporters, first of all because they knew that the NRA would bottle up such a bill in the Legislature, but second of all because universal background checks appear to have wide popular support.  Even groups that generally support the NRA, such as Republican men, appear to favor NICS checks on most, if not all gun transactions, and ballot initiatives are a clever way to turn such grass-roots support into laws.

If gun safety advocates use the experience in Washington as a template and begin moving ballot initiatives for background checks into other states, they will not only negate the lobbying power of the NRA at the legislative level, but can use the financial resources of their chief supporters to equalize or overcome the monies that the NRA doles out for political campaigns. In the I-594 contest the supporters spent nearly $8 million to gain what will probably be somewhere above 1 million votes, the measure’s opponents spent slightly under half a million and vote-wise fell far short.  Bloomberg kicked in $2.3 million, the Microsoft boys – Gates & Ballmer – threw in another $1.6 million and Paul Allen added half a mil. Gates, Ballmer and Allen are all residents of Washington, but if Mayor Mike decided to move his funding cavalcade to another state he’d no doubt dig up a few wealthy friends to help foot the bill.

Don’t get me wrong.  You could fund a citizen’s initiative on background checks in Alabama with a gazillion dollars and it would probably fail.  But the first state to legalize same-sex marriage was Massachusetts in 2004.  Now the list is up to 32…

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Guess Who’s Joining Bloomberg’s Gun Crusade Now?

Until recently, conventional wisdom had it that nobody could go up against the NRA and win.  They had too much money, too much clout, too many politicians doing their bidding and, most of all, a dedicated and energized membership that could swing public opinion and election results their way. They were so strong and so effective that in 2013 they even kept the mildest legislative compromise from getting through Congress after the horrifying tragedy at Sandy Hook.

gates                But that was then and this is now.  And the now I am referring to is the news that another billionaire named Bill Gates has teamed up with Mike Bloomberg to challenge the NRA in a Washington State initiative that would require background checks for all firearm transfers conducted within the state.  Now Bloomberg may be a pretty rich guy, make no mistake about it, but he’s still in the minor leagues when compared to Gates who is not only worth somewhere north of 60 billion real dollars, but has spent the last decade doing a pretty effective job of giving it away.  When he decides to get his money behind something, we’re not talking about the 50 million that Bloomberg is putting up this year to deal with guns, we’re looking at the 1.5 billion that the Gates Foundation spent last year on only one of four major initiatives – global development – alone.

In 2012, including a couple of million thrown into the pot by the Koch Brothers, the NRA spent slightly more than $25 million on donations to candidates and political ads.  That kind of money buys a lot of traction in Washington but it’s chump-change compared to what Gates could pony up if he decided that gun control was going to help makes his day.  And just so you don’t think that putting a hundred or two hundred million out there might strain Bill and Melinda’s cash flow, let’s not forget that their best buddy and Trustee of the Gates Foundation is none other than Warren Buffet, who might just be worth another 60 billion, give or take a billion here or there.

Sometimes it’s difficult to translate large sums of money into something that we can understand, but look at it this way.  The combined net worth of Gates, Buffet and Bloomberg, if considered as equivalent to an annual GDP, would make these three guys the fiftieth wealthiest country on Earth, somewhere around Qatar, Portugal or Peru.  According to the 2010 financial filing made by the NRA (the latest I could find online), the outfit had revenues of slightly under 230 million which represents roughly 20% of Microsoft’s revenues each week!  In 2014 Berkshire-Hathaway looks like it will have weekly revenues of nearly 4 billion and Bloomberg L.P. is also no slouch.  We’re not talking here about the nickels and dimes that the NRA carts off to the bank.  When it comes to putting up dough for whatever Gates, Buffet and Bloomberg want to promote, those guys are the bank.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not in favor of buying elections or using deep pockets to influence electoral outcomes either from the Left or the Right.  But the NRA’s biggest problem is they really can’t reach out to anyone who doesn’t own a gun.  Meanwhile, the gun control folks have suffered over the years from the waxing and waning of public concern about guns that usually only spikes upward when a horrifying or high-visibility shooting takes place.  Guess what?  The kind of money represented by Gates, Buffet and Bloomberg can go a long way towards funding ongoing, grass-roots activities that the NRA would find it difficult, if not impossible to match. In the last month, Bloomberg’s group  Everytown forced Target to declare itself a gun-free zone, and now they are trying to add Kroger to the gun-free list as well.  Notice any big retailers inviting open-carry activists into their stores?