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Gun Politics in 2017 and What’s Ahead in 2018

December 18, 2017

Last week, the nation marked five years since the tragedy at Sandy Hook School, where 20 students and six educators were shot and killed. That shooting sparked a movement and now gun safety advocates are flipping the script on the once-perceived power of the gun lobby – and winning. Increased electoral power, statehouse victories and the gun lobby’s loosening grip on Congress speak to that.

From a country music concert on the Las Vegas Strip, to a Sunday prayer service in Texas, to countless other tragedies that don’t make the headlines – gun violence continues to grip our nation and change countless lives. As you prepare coverage and commentary to close out the year, here is a review of how the movement to end gun violence grew in 2017 – and what lies ahead in Congress, in elections and in the states in 2018.

What Intensity Gap? Gun Safety Makes the Difference in Elections

In 2016, we saw that gun safety – once considered the “third rail” of politics – was a winning issue on the ballot. This year was no different. In November, every candidate endorsed by the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America won his or her race. Across the country (and even in the NRA’s backyard of Virginia), gun safety was on the ballot this November, and won.

  • In Virginia, Governor-elect Ralph Northam, Lieutenant Governor-elect Justin Fairfax, Attorney General Mark Herring, Delegate John Bell and Delegate-elect Chris Hurst (whose girlfriend Alison Parker and her cameraman, Adam Ward, were shot and killed on live television in 2015) all ran on gun safety and won. And, exit polls proved that voters in Virginia went to the ballot box thinking about gun safety – it was the second most important issue in the governor’s race.
  • In New Jersey, gun-sense champions Phil Murphy and Sheila Oliver were elected governor and lieutenant governor, respectively. They ran on gun safety.
  • In Washington state, gun-sense champion Manka Dhingra won the special election for the 45th legislative district in Washington’s state Senate. Dhingra ran on gun safety.

To achieve our electoral victories, Everytown made financial and in-kind contributions in races and harnessed the grassroots power of Moms Demand Action chapters and volunteers. For instance, in Virginia, Everytown contributed more than $2.2 million to Northam, Fairfax, Herring, Hurst and Bell – persevering in spite of the NRA spending more than $2 million on these races. From coast to coast, Moms Demand Action volunteers worked tirelessly to elect gun sense champions, hosting hundreds of events, knocking on doors and calling their neighbors about the importance of electing gun-sense candidates. You can expect to see a meaningful infusion of money and grassroots energy in 2018.

And, Moms Demand Action volunteers have gone from being the advocates attending legislative hearings to being the ones running for office. In 2017, nine Moms Demand Action volunteers ran for local office and won. More than 400 volunteers have expressed interest in running for office and across the country, they’re getting on the ballot. Moms Demand Action volunteers are running in 2018 in states ranging from Arizona to Arkansas, Georgia and Kansas.

And it’s no wonder. Public opinion polling proves the tables have turned on how guns play in elections. In fact, Americans are clamoring for stronger gun laws:

Post-Virginia electoral polling revealed that gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie’s NRA A rating hurt, rather than helped, his candidacy, further underscoring why he lost to gun-sense champion Ralph Northam. In fact:

  • When voters were reminded of Gillespie’s score from the NRA, 48 percent said it made them less likely to support him, compared to only 23 percent who said it made them more likely to support him.
  • Conversely, Northam won voters who said that gun issues were one of the most important factors to their vote 57 percent to 43 percent for Gillespie.
  • A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll revealed that a majority of Americans support stronger gun laws and oppose NRA priority legislation that would roll back silencer safety laws.
  • A Quinnipiac University National Poll found the “highest level of support ever” for stronger gun laws.

The NRA Doesn’t Have a Grip on Congress Anymore

The NRA spent big in 2016 – more than $50 million in fact – to elect gun lobby-backed legislators in Congress and a president willing to make the gun lobby’s agenda a reality from day one. Nearly one year later, their investment hasn’t quite paid off.

Legislation to roll back gun silencer safety laws has stalled in Congresswith a ranking House member saying that it prompted “a real public response against it, and I think that (concealed carry) is going to cause the same uproar…”

And, just the other week, the NRA’s top priority – legislation that would weaken state gun laws and allow people with dangerous histories and no training to carry hidden, loaded guns in public through “concealed carry reciprocity” – received a vote on the House floor. The issue reached the floor only when the NRA sneakily hijacked a bipartisan piece of legislation to improve the criminal background check system. While it passed, the margins were tight and a closer look at the vote totals reveals trouble for the NRA:

  • In 2011, the last time this legislation received a vote, “concealed carry reciprocity” (H.R. 822) passed the House by a 118-vote margin. This time, with roughly the same partisan makeup, the House passed “concealed carry reciprocity” (H.R. 38) by just a 33-vote margin.
  • More than twice as many Republicans voted NO (14) than Democrats voted YES (6).
  • Eighteen House members who voted for “concealed carry reciprocity” in 2011 voted against it this time.
  • As reported by the New York Times, Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Mark Warner (D-VA) all say that they are against “concealed carry reciprocity,” after previously voting for it in 2013.

We Defeated the NRA’s Dangerous Agenda in Statehouses Across the Country

This year, Everytown led campaigns to defeat dangerous gun lobby-backed proposals in states across the country. And at the same time, gun safety legislation is passing in statehouses. In fact, just this year alone, both Democratic and Republican governors have signed domestic violence bills into law in eight states – Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Utah.

In Rhode Island, a domestic violence bill originally introduced three years ago passed and was signed into law. The Rhode Island chapter of Moms Demand Action worked tirelessly to get the bill passed by testifying at numerous hearings, coordinating large digital campaigns, writing countless letters and op-eds for newspapers throughout the state and doggedly lobbying state legislators. The ability of Rhode Island lawmakers to pass life-saving legislation – after hearing time and time again from their constituents – is far from an aberration.

Gun lobby priority legislation was defeated or failed to advance this past legislative session in more than 30 states.

  • Permitless Carry: Bills that would have dismantled state concealed carry permitting systems and let people carry hidden, loaded handguns in public without a permit or training were introduced in 28 states. Twenty states failed to pass these bills – Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia. Two states, North Dakota and New Hampshire, passed permitless carry legislation this year. Similar bills are still active this year in six states – Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
  • Make no mistake about it: This legislation was defeated in red, purple AND blue states. Just look to South Dakota, where a permitless bill was vetoed by a Republican governor and the GOP-controlled House failed to override him. In his veto message, Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard wrote, “As a longtime member of the NRA, I support the right to bear arms. South Dakota’s current permit process is simple and straightforward, and permits can be obtained in a matter of minutes. It is paramount that our state protect the rights of our citizens while at the same time protecting the lives of our citizens.”
  • Guns on Campus: Bills that would have forced colleges to allow guns on campus or expanded existing guns on campus laws were introduced in 20 states. Sixteen states failed to pass these bills – Alabama, California, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming. Two states, Arkansas and Georgia, passed guns on campus legislation this year. Similar bills are still active this year in two states – Michigan and North Carolina.
  • Guns in K-12 Schools: Bills to allow guns in K-12 schools were introduced in 24 states. Nineteen states all failed to pass these bills – Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. Legislation that would allow guns in K-12 schools is still active this year in four states – Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The legislation passed in Wyoming.
  • Stand Your Ground: New Stand Your Ground legislation was introduced in three states – Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio. The legislation passed in Iowa, failed in Michigan and is still active in Ohio.

The NRA Continues to Lose in the Courtroom

Courts across the country have repeatedly backed sensible gun laws and have rejected the NRA leadership’s extremist agenda – one that leaves no room for reasonable restrictions like background checks and that is increasingly inconsistent with Justice Scalia’s landmark ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller.

Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would let stand a Florida Supreme Court ruling that upheld Florida’s law prohibiting the open carry of firearms in public. At the Florida Supreme Court, where gun sense had prevailed, Everytown and the NRA were the only organizations to file amicus briefs. In a separate case, the Supreme Court said it would let stand a ruling that upheld San Diego’s requirement that a member of the public needs a good cause to carry a concealed handgun in public and in another, a federal appeals court backed the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging Washington state’s background check ballot measure.

We’ve also had success in pushing back against the NRA’s radical legislative agenda in the courtroom. In February, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit struck down a dangerous law prohibiting doctors from discussing firearms with their patients.

A list of other court rulings in cases related to gun safety laws is available here.

Furthering a Culture of Gun Safety in America

  • In May, more than 130 authors joined together to launch the Everytown Authors Council. In September, Julianne Moore and Cynthia Rowley announced the launch of the Everytown Fashion Council, which will focus on engaging the power of the fashion community to support gun safety and help reduce gun violence.
  • The third annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day in June brought together more than 700 influencers at more than 250 events spanning every state. Corporate brands, elected officials, partner organizations and iconic landmarks, including former President Barack Obama, Kim Kardashian West, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Amy Schumer, Viacom, Univision, Vogue, the Empire State Building and many more came together to #WearOrange, remember all victims and survivors of gun violence and to declare that we as a country must do more to reduce gun violence.
  • Following the shooting in Las Vegas, dozens of cultural icons released a video called “How to Call Congress,” urging Americans to take action to stop the gun lobby’s dangerous agenda. And, more than 400 members of the Everytown Survivor Network from all 50 states signed a letter calling on Congress and the president to take action to help prevent gun violence.
  • In November, just one month after the Las Vegas shooting, buildings around the country pledged to light up orange in honor of the 58 people shot and killed – and all Americans killed and injured by gun violence. The effort is in partnership with RXR Realty and includes buildings like the San Diego Museum of Man, the Boulder Courthouse in Colorado, the Skydance Pedestrian Bridge in Oklahoma City, the Helmsley Building and 4 Times Square in New York.
  • Just the other week, the Billboard Humanitarian Award was given to Everytown for Gun Safety – the first time ever it was given to an advocacy organization.
  • Active volunteers are at an all-time high. Since 2014, the number of active Moms Demand Action volunteers has grown from 4,500 to 70,000. These volunteers are showing up at statehouses, attending rallies, hosting house parties and more.

So, What’s Next?

This year marked a shift in gun politics. Gun safety advocates are under no illusion that this fight is over. And next up, the fight in Congress moves to the Senate where the NRA knows it cannot succeed in making its number one priority, “concealed carry reciprocity,” a reality.

After the Sandy Hook tragedy, the American public was moved to act.

Out of that tragedy, a movement was born and everyday Americans moved off the sidelines and into the public arena. Likewise, lawmakers must respond to the public. How could they not when just this past August recess alone, Moms Demand Action volunteers and gun violence survivors held more than 300 meetings with members of Congress or their staff to urge them to reject the NRA’s deadly agenda and pass common-sense gun safety legislation?

The fight for gun safety continues in statehouses, in Washington, in communities, at the ballot box and around the country. No longer can NRA leaders push their deadly agenda without forceful pushback from the American people. Simply put: The American public does not subscribe to the gun lobby’s bleak vision that Americans must be armed to the teeth so they can enjoy a concert, pray at church or feel safe dropping their kids off at school.

This year has marked a turning point. Americans will continue to send a clear message to lawmakers as we look ahead to the 2018 elections: Either reject the NRA’s dangerous agenda and put American lives first, or you’ll be rejected in the voting booth.


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