The NRA engages in the fight against direct democracy


Last summer, following attempts to push through gun reform measures through multi-state ballot initiatives, National Rifle Association chief lobbyist Chris Cox warned of the threat the growing impact of direct democracy on gun rights.

“Many states have voter-driven initiative processes, so we shouldn’t be surprised if similar efforts emerge across the country,” Cox wrote in a column for the Institute for Legislative Action, the branch of lobbying and legislative action of the NRA. He then raised the specter of the deep-pocketed gun reform movement, which “would continue to push attacks on the Second Amendment by trying to confuse voters at the ballot box.”

Stuck in federal and state legislatures, gun reform activists have made significant gains through the ballot initiative process over the past five years. In 2014, voters in Washington approved the universal background check. In 2016, voters in Nevada followed suit, while Californians banned high-capacity magazines and established background check requirements for ammunition. Last year, residents of Washington state raised the age of possession of certain guns from 18 to 21, extended wait times for purchasing and imposed gun stockpiling warrants. In a handful of other states, similar measures have narrowly failed. The gun reform measures are part of a broad trend towards direct democracy by left-wing activists, who have had success with minimum wage measures, medical marijuana, the re-emancipation of criminals and the expansion health insurance.

In response to the guns measures, the NRA joined the broader push by members of the conservative GOP coalition to stop the new progressive energy behind the poll initiatives. Over the past two years, 27 state legislatures have considered bills that would make it much more difficult to implement policies directly in front of voters, and in 12 states the proposals have become law, according to the Ballot Initiative Strategy. Center left. The NRA put its weight behind two of the bills, in Maine and Florida.

The prevention of gun violence is “another issue in this larger dynamic where there is popular support for almost always progressive priorities, but due to the legislative deadlock people have turned to voting measures,” said Zachary Roth, a researcher at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University who has written about efforts to restrict direct democracy. Proposals to make it harder for citizens to ask political questions directly on the ballot are “a way for the NRA to crack down on efforts to mobilize people to reduce gun violence.”

Last year, the gun group backed a proposal in Maine that would have dramatically increased the number of signatures required for a successful vote from residents of less densely populated counties. Although that effort ultimately failed, a similar measure in Florida to change the process of initiating the ballot was enacted last month with enthusiastic support from the NRA. The law requires that hired petition collectors be paid by the hour rather than the number of signatures they collect. It also requires people who collect signatures to register with the state and imposes monetary penalties for not submitting signed petitions promptly.

In Maine and Florida, the NRA has urged its members to call and write to lawmakers in their state to demand that they enact the restrictions on the voting measures. “These changes are of critical importance to gun owners, as anti-snipers repeatedly attempt to subvert Constitutional and Second Amendment rights by imposing gun bans and controls by through the ballot petition process, ”said NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer, praising Florida’s new law. .

The NRA has announced its support for bills in response to specific gun reform measures. In Maine, state lobbyists arguing for the restriction cited a universal background check question in the 2016 poll. In Florida, despite modest gun reforms enacted in the wake of the shooting Parkland state lawmakers have ended a more aggressive ban on assault weapons. A progressive coalition immediately began planning to ban the 2020 poll.

“The reason Floridians are embracing citizens’ initiatives is because the legislature is not meeting the needs of voters,” said Patricia Brigham, president of the Florida League of Women Voters, an advocacy group that has joined the effort. prohibition of assault weapons.

But with the new changes to Florida’s ballot initiative process, gun reform activists believe their path has now become much more difficult. Ben Pollara, a Florida political consultant working on the assault weapons ban, said the new rules would make his job much more difficult. “It’s going to increase the cost of getting anything on the ballot by 50 to 100 percent,” he said.

Florida’s ban on assault weapons is just one of many voting initiatives planned for the upcoming election. According to Ballotpedia, 10 firearms-related voting measures are currently planned for 2020. Eight of the measures would strengthen gun laws or seek to reduce firing.

The initiatives threaten the grip of the NRA and other conservative groups on power, Pollara said. The ballots, he said, are “the only lever of power over which they do not have absolute control, so they have decided to strangle it.”