Four US states likely to pass gun legislation in upcoming election

Gun legislationBy Patrick Sullivan, CIB Americas Desk
Analytical question: 
Will stricter gun legislation be introduced in the United States in 2017?

Four US states will feature gun legislation initiatives on their respective ballots in this year’s upcoming Presidential election. Given that the 2012 Presidential election saw only one state feature such an initiative on its ballot, this spike may suggest that recent mass shootings have instigated coordinated state level initiatives for policy change.

Political discourse surrounding gun-control legislation has been intense in the US for the better part of a century, and arguments on both sides often have deep-rooted ideological footholds to support claims. Voters in California, Maine, Nevada, and Washington will be asked to take a stance on the volatile topic on November 8, because it has reached their ballots. The largest financial donor in support of the bills in Maine and Nevada, and second-largest in Washington, is Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit gun-control organization founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Following failed attempts by Congress to pass federal legislation, lobbying organizations have adopted a state-by-state campaign method, similar to the gay marriage campaign. Not surprisingly, the National Rifle Association (NRA) sits as the top opposition donor in California and Maine, and second opposition donor in Nevada.

This legislation is likely attributed to recent shootings since the 2012 Presidential election, namely those occurring in Newtown, Charleston, San Bernardino, and Orlando to list a few. The devastation in Newtown, at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was perhaps the most heart-wrenching, given that 20 elementary school children were shot and killed by an active shooter. Furthermore, the crisis in Orlando this past summer which left 49 people dead, also likely acted as a major driver to push for stricter acquisition processes for obtaining firearms.

The Newtown and Orlando shootings played pivotal roles in setting the gun-control policy agenda in the US for different reasons. Firstly, Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of the Newtown shooting acquired guns from his mother who was reportedly “a gun enthusiast”. Supporters argue that under Washington’s Initiative 1491, Lanza could have been determined by family members to pose a threat to himself or others and placed on an extreme risk list, which could have prevented him from acquiring the guns. But opponents of the proposed legislation would argue that, despite being listed in some database, he could still have obtained the guns. Next, Omar Mateen, the assailant of the Orlando shooting, was already on federal terrorist watch lists. Supporters of gun control would claim that, under the proposed legislation, which would entail more rigorous background checks, potential terrorists would not be able to purchase firearms. Opponents of gun control would point out that if a terrorist was willing to kill so many people he or she would surely be willing to obtain a firearm through illicit means.

Ballotpedia, an online political nonpartisan database, references various reputable polling surveys that indicate majority support for state level gun-control legislation to be featured on the ballots in California, Maine, Nevada, and Washington alike. Therefore, it can be stated with high confidence that we will see state-level gun-control legislation introduced following the election. However, it should be noted that polls cannot be interpreted as perfectly sound predictors and that there is an evident degree of disparity between the multiple polls per bill and the results in each state’s bill. Moreover, these developments only affect legislation at the state level. One must also remain cognizant of the federal contingencies riding on this election; specifically, each Presidential candidate’s agenda on the topic and the congressional election, both of which have potential to introduce sweeping policy changes in the US.


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Ballotpedia State Desk; “Washington Individual Gun Access Prevention by Court Order, Initiative 1491 (2016)”; Ballotpedia.
Ballotpedia State Desk; “Maine Background Checks for Gun Sales, Question 3 (2016); Ballotpedia.
Ballotpedia State Desk; “Nevada Background Check for Gun Purchases, Question 1 (2016)”; Ballotpedia.
Ballotpedia State Desk; “California Proposition 63, Background Checks for Ammunition Purposes and Large Capacity Ammunition Magazine Ban (2016)”; Ballotpedia.
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