THE BLOG
11/05/2014 04:02 pm ET Updated Jan 05, 2015

What Does Washington's I-594 Mean Going Forward? Trouble for the NRA

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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 I-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.

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...