In races across the country yesterday, Americans supported policies and candidates that will prevent gun violence, leading to decisive victories for Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, the advocacy arm that led Everytown for Gun Safety’s electoral activity, and I-594, Washington State’s background check ballot measure that passed with 60% of the vote. Everytown spent more than $4 million, placed half a dozen full-time staffers on the ground for the past year, and produced state-of-the-art research to support I-594, Washington State’s ballot measure to reduce crime and save lives by closing the background check loophole. A resounding 55% of Washington voters also rejected I-591, a gun lobby-backed measure that would have weakened existing Washington State gun laws.
In candidate races, more than 80% of Everytown-endorsed candidates won election. In governor races in states that passed background check legislation since Newtown, candidates who support gun safety were victorious – Malloy (CT), Cuomo (NY), and Hickenlooper (CO). In fact, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy’s gun safety record helped him close the gap in a tight race.
“When it comes to guns, the only Washington that mattered this election was Washington State and the victory for I-594, the background check ballot initiative there, proved the polls right – when Americans vote on public safety measures to prevent gun violence, gun safety wins,” said John Feinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety. “The NRA might be able to intimidate Washington DC and state legislators, but they don’t intimidate American voters – and we expect to prove this again in Nevada where signatures are currently being gathered to put background checks on the ballot there too.”
“Moms took the fight to keep our children safe from gun violence to a new grassroots level – and the election results show that while the gun lobby can bully politicians, they can’t bully the American people at the voting booth,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “We set out to sign up one million Americans to vote for gun safety, and that’s just what we did this election. We knocked on doors, we made calls, and we have built a grassroots movement that is not only rivaling the gun lobby, but winning key races. But this is a long-term effort – the gun lobby has had the field to themselves for decades and we’re finally meeting them on their turf and showing them—and the legislators in their pockets—that Americans will stand up for public safety.”
“Washington D.C. failed to take action so the people of Washington State took matters into their own hands and the results are clear: voters support common-sense measures to prevent gun violence,” said Howard Wolfson, advisor to Michael R. Bloomberg whose Independence USA PAC supported gun sense champions including Dannel Malloy’s and John Hickenlooper’s successful re-elections for the governorships of Connecticut and Colorado. “If elected leaders won’t change the laws that make it too easy for dangerous people to get guns, Americans will change their elected officials—or they’ll take the issue to the ballot.”
“The people of Washington have delivered an historic and enormous victory for common-sense gun laws that will reverberate across our country,” said Zach Silk, campaign manager for the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility. “By voting Yes On 594 and No on 591, Washington has demonstrated that when a coalition of everyday citizens has the resources, support, and energy necessary to take on the gun lobby, they can win. Washington will serve as an example for Americans in states across our country that they can stand up for common-sense values of gun responsibility and win.”
Washington State Win Represents Next Frontier for Gun Violence Prevention
Everytown spent more than $4 million, placed half a dozen full-time staffers on the ground in Washington State for the past year, and produced state-of-the-art research to support Washington State’s ballot measure to reduce crime and save lives by closing the background check loophole.
Victory in Washington State was not a foregone conclusion – despite its national reputation as a ‘blue’ state, Washington, like Colorado, is diverse and competitive in its large number of exurban and rural communities, with high rates of gun ownership. In addition, Washington has been one of the National Rifle Association’s strongholds for years – the state where the NRA spends more money on political activity than in any other state in the country. In 2013, the NRA spent $68,300 in direct contributions to state legislators while Texas, the next biggest recipient of direct NRA contributions, got $26,050 less.  As a result, the gun lobby successfully blocked efforts to pass background checks in the Washington State legislature in 2013 and 2014 before the measure was taken directly to voters.
The background check victory in Washington State also represents a new frontier in the fight for public safety measures that can help prevent gun violence. Everytown is taking the fight for background checks to Nevada next – where signatures are being gathered for a 2016 ballot initiative – and to Arizona and Maine after that, among other states.
Winning ‘Background Check Majorities’ in Key State Legislatures
This election cycle, Everytown for Gun Safety developed a political strategy to, for the first time, take on the gun lobby in a field they’ve had to themselves for decades: state electoral and legislative politics. To support that strategy, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund spent more than $12.1 milliondollars during the 2014 election to support Washington State Ballot Initiative 594; to stand up for gun sense champions; and to elect the candidates needed to keep or build legislative majorities necessary to pass gun sense legislation in state houses across the country including in Colorado, Oregon, and Minnesota.
In Colorado, a few months after the state passed a strong package of gun violence prevention legislation, two state senators were recalled from office – last night Everytown took those two seats back. Candidates in Colorado ran successful campaigns based on support for common-sense gun laws—and won—because Colorado voters support the law that has already blocked more than 300 gun sales to dangerous people. In fact, Michael Merrifield, one of the winners of a recalled seat, is a former staffer of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
“Cynics pointed to the recalls as proof that guns are radioactive to legislators – but Everytown’s defeat of the extremist legislators who won in low-turnout recall elections last year proves that they were nothing but anomalies,” said Feinblatt.
In Oregon, 100 percent of Everytown for Gun Safety’s endorsed candidates were victorious including U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer and Governor John Kitzhaber. In addition, the election of Rep. Sara Gelser to the state Senate signals a pro-background check majority in 2015, which clears the most significant roadblock in Everytown for Gun Safety’s work over the past two years to pass a background check bill there.
In Minnesota, voters re-elected nearly all of Everytown for Gun Safety’s endorsed candidates including U.S. Senator Al Franken, U.S. Representative Keith Ellison, Governor Mark Dayton, and five state representatives. This year, the state legislature passed common-sense legislation supported by 80 percent of Minnesotans that keeps guns out of the hands of convicted stalkers and domestic abusers. All endorsed state representatives voted for the bill, which was signed into law by Governor Mark Dayton in May.
Guns No Longer ‘Third Rail’ Issue for Candidates
Whereas guns were once considered a third rail, this cycle several U.S. senators who voted for background checks from states with high gun ownership – Shaheen (NH),Warner (VA), Franken (MN), Collins (ME), Merkley (OR) and Udall (NM) – won re-election without their gun votes being an issue. In addition, Representative Gary Peters, a sponsor of King-Thompson, the U.S. House background check legislation, won the U.S. Senate seat in Michigan.
“We stood up for gun sense champions – political leaders who voted the right way on background check and domestic violence legislation,” said Feinblatt. “Their wins are proof positive that you can be from states with strong gun ownership, vote for gun safety and still win – something that was unheard of a few years ago.”
At the same time, this election saw other candidates scramble to make clear that they support background checks or to disassociate themselves from their NRA endorsement. This election season Moms Demand Action unveiled the “Explain Your A” social media campaign asking candidates to explain their ‘A’ rating from the NRA. This top grade from the gun lobby represents support for the rights of felons, domestic abusers and terror suspects to buy and own guns, among other dangerous policies and proved a liability for U.S. Rep. Darlene Senger (IL-11), candidate Larry Kaifesh (IL-8) and candidate Carl Domino (FL-18).
And senators who voted the wrong way on background checks – like Senator Mark Pryor (AR) and Mark Begich (AK) – learned that it didn’t buy the NRA’s support. In fact, in Arkansas, the National Rifle Association spent $2.9 million to defeat Pryor.
“When Senator Pryor voted against background checks, he claimed he ‘listens to Arkansas’, despite the84 percent of Arkansans who support background checks,” said Feinblatt.
Building a Base of Gun Sense Voters
This election season Everytown launched the Gun Sense Voter campaign and signed up one million Americans to vote for leaders and laws that will prevent gun violence – part of the organization’s campaign to build a constituency of Americans who will vote on gun safety in this and future elections. Watts led the Gun Sense Voter road show and joined local Moms chapters, gun violence survivors and other gun safety advocates to organize and volunteer for I-594 in Washington State and endorsed candidates and for chapter development in Oregon, Illinois, Minnesota, California, Maryland, Maine, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Colorado, Louisiana, North Carolina, Michigan and Nevada.
To achieve our electoral goals, Everytown used state-of-the-art analytics and harnessed the grassroots power of Moms Demand Action chapters and volunteers, which reached out to voters more than 130,000 times and had over 43,000 one-on-one conversations (on the phones or at the door), in more than 4,500 hours of volunteering.