It’s really not possible to overstate the importance of Tuesday’s victory in Washington State. In the only place where guns were directly on the ballot this Election Day, voters in the Evergreen State overwhelmingly passed Initiative 594 to expand background checks to all gun sales, including online and at gun shows. With a decisive 60 percent of voters supporting I-594, it turns out that it’s a lot harder for the corporate gun lobby to bully voters than it is to bully politicians.
Make no mistake - this law will save lives. Washingtonians should sleep better knowing that their state will be a safer place. In fact, states that have expanded background checks see 38 percent fewer women killed by intimate partners with handguns and 39 percent fewer law enforcement officers killed.
That’s why I-594 was our top electoral priority. Our report, Washington State Officers Attacked, Ambushed & Killed by Armed Criminals, exposed the very real and ongoing threat posed to law enforcement, and all Washingtonians, when prohibited purchasers and dangerous people have easy, unchecked access to firearms. Working with our partners at the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, our chapters and activists on the ground and around the country, fifteen thousand calls were placed to turn out voters and help achieve this monumental victory.
Washington was the only state in the country where background checks were voted on directly by the people this election cycle. The last time voters cast ballots directly on background checks was in 2000, when Colorado and Oregon citizens voted to overwhelmingly pass laws to expand background checks. Colorado’s initiative passed 70 percent to 30 percent, and Oregon’s passed 62 percent to 38 percent.
Last week’s victory makes Washington State the seventh state to require background checks on all gun sales and the fifth state since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, joining Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, and New York. Furthermore, this brings the number of states that require background checks on all handguns to eleven – significant progress when you consider that handguns are the weapon of choice for the vast majority of gun deaths.
It wasn’t that long ago that only one in five Americans lived in a state with expanded Brady background checks, leaving 80 percent of Americans vulnerable to weak gun laws that allow criminals, domestic abusers, and fugitives to purchase guns from unlicensed sellers with no questions asked. Since the Sandy Hook tragedy and with Washington State’s historic victory, one-in-three Americans are now protected by life-saving expanded Brady background checks. That’s more than 100,000 million Americans and truly demonstrates the game-changing momentum of our movement. Progress like this would have been unthinkable just two years ago.
This historic victory confirms what we already knew. That a tremendous majority of the American public, in every state in this nation, supports expanding background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and other dangerous people. Now we plan to keep building on this exciting momentum, taking this issue directly to voters in more states and showing the gun lobby “Lap Dogs” in statehouses and Congress exactly where the American people stand.
In fact, there are seventeen more states that allow citizen initiatives, but those states still make it far too easy for dangerous people to purchase guns without a background check. Taking the model from Washington State to those seventeen states would protect another fifty-nine million Americans and bring expanded Brady background checks to more than 50 percent of the country!
Make no mistake, this is a huge victory for the gun violence prevention movement and for every American who wants to live in a safer nation. It is the first direct vote in years to show exactly where the American people really stand on the gun violence issue. Most importantly, it is an inspiring indication of things to come, as we work to “Finish the Job” and expand life-saving Brady background checks to all gun sales nationwide.