Florida Supreme Court Says No To AWB Ballot Item

Ban Assault Weapons NOW or BAWN sought to have an assault weapons ban inserted into Article 1, Section 8, Right to Bear Arms, of the Florida Constitution. They did this with a so-called citizens initiative petition which would have put the constitutional change on the ballot.

BAWN, who characterized themselves as a “bipartisan, grassroots movement”, was spawned after the murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Their leadership includes such luminaries as Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), David “Camera” Hogg, and Fred Guttenberg. It is considered “bipartisan” because it has a couple of former Republican office holders on its committee. Partner organizations include Brady Campaign (now Brady United), the Newtown Alliance, and March for our Lives.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R-FL) sought an advisory opinion from the Supreme Court as to the validity of the constitutional initiative. Today the Florida Supreme Court issued their advisory opinion.

They concluded that the proposed initiative should not be placed on the ballot in a Per Curiam decision. It was a four to one decision with one justice not participating.

The court’s review was limited to two issues: did the proposed amendement satisfy the single-subject requirement and whether the ballot title and summary satisfy the requirements of the Florida statutes. They don’t address the merit or wisdom of the proposed initiative.

The court addressed the latter issue and found that the ballot summary mislead voters as to the exemption contained in the ballot summary in the next to last sentence. That sentence read, “Exempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date.”

Here, the ballot summary fails to satisfy the requirements of section
101.161(1) and is affirmatively misleading because the meaning of the text of the ballot summary does not accurately describe the meaning of the Initiative’s text regarding the exemption.

Specifically, the next to last sentence of the ballot summary informs voters
that the Initiative “[e]xempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date” (emphasis added), when in fact the Initiative does no such thing. Contrary to the ballot summary, the Initiative’s text exempts only “the person’s,” meaning the current owner’s, possession of that assault weapon.

They go on to add:

While the ballot summary purports to exempt registered assault
weapons lawfully possessed prior to the Initiative’s effective date, the Initiative does not categorically exempt the assault weapon, only the current owner’s possession of that assault weapon. The ballot summary is therefore affirmatively misleading.

Since they found the ballot summary “affirmatively misleading”, it didn’t comply with Section 101.161(1) of the Florida Statutes and thus cannot be on the ballot.

Attorney General Moody had attacked the initiative from the very beginning. She continued her attack by calling it “deceitful and misleading”. Moody said the ban, if approved, would have banned “virtually every self-loading long gun.”

She was right. It would have banned everything from Glenfield tube-fed .22 rifles to every AR and AK. Moreover, it would have made possession by unregistered people a third-degree felony.

Congratulations to Attorney General Moody and to the NRA and NSSF who filed as “interested parties” on the win.

One must wonder how long it will take before BAWN and their partners are back seeking signatures on an amended petition. I would hope that all the new gun owners who might have supported this in the past have now come to their senses and will reject any new such petition.

The full Per Curiam opinion can be found here.

A Judge Who Believes The Rules Matter

It is refreshing to see a state judge who believes the rules matter when it comes to a voter initiative. Thurston County (Washington) Superior Court Judge James Dixon is that kind of judge.

This past Friday he threw out the 300,000 signatures collected on petitions on Initiative 1639 which would entail another round of gun control in Washington State.  Judge Dixon found that the print on the forms was too small to be read and that the petitions did not clearly state what would be the changes in the law. He ordered the Secretary of State’s office to stop certification of the ballot initiative.

Among the things the initiative would do is raise the age to purchase a modern semi-auto sporting weapon including .22 rifles to age 21, require a firearm safety training course, and mandate safe storage. The petition process was started by the Alliance for Gun Responsibility and funded primarily by high tech billionaires such as Paul Allen.

As you might expect, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility is appealing this to the Washington State Supreme Court. Moreover, as their CEOs comments make clear they are not happy campers.

“The right of Washingtonians to make changes to our laws via initiative has been part of our state’s history for more than 100 years and is fundamental to the Washington we know today,” (Renee) Hopkins said. “Today’s decision tossed out the signatures of more than 378,000 voters, and undermined the rights of the citizens of this state in favor of the interests of the gun lobby. It’s not right, and we will continue to fight.”

Actually, it was the Alliance for Gun Responsibility’s playing fast and loose with the established rules regarding the form and style of initiative petitions that undermined the petition and not anything the judge did. I guess they thought with all the money that they had the court would just roll over for them.

As you might expect, Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation who sued as a private citizen was very pleased with the result.

“A few billionaires donated millions of dollars to buy the signatures to get this fraudulent initiative on the ballot,” Gottlieb observed. “But they couldn’t buy the Court.”

“The initiative process has no place for deceit and deception,” Gottlieb said. “The so-called Alliance for Gun Responsibility acted totally irresponsible in circulating this initiative to the voters and it not only cost them millions of wasted dollars but their credibility as well.”

The NRA had also sued along with Alan Gottlieb and the ruling is in response to both lawsuits. Chris Cox of the NRA-ILA had this to say:

“The National Rifle Association is glad to see the court today recognized how negligent, if not worse, gun control advocates were in their signature-gathering for this ill-advised ballot initiative,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director, NRA-ILA. “We got involved because I-1639 tramples on the rights of Washington state voters, and because the way these anti-gun activists went about pushing their agenda was egregious. We applaud this decision, and will remain vigilant in protecting the constitutional freedoms of all Americans.”

It is good for gun rights to see the NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation working together in Washington State. They are also co-plaintiffs in two more lawsuits challenging efforts by Seattle and Edmonds to circumvent the state’s strong preemption laws on firearms regulations.

I-594 And The Aftermath – Why Washington State And Who Might Be Next (Pt. 2)

My first post on this topic looked at the long game being played by Michael Bloomberg and his minions at Everytown Moms for Illegal Mayors. Some have postulated, and I would tend to agree, that the ultimate goal of these initiatives is to discourage new entrants to the gun culture rather than merely imposing a universal background check system state-by-state.

Since last Tuesday when Initiative 594 won in Washington State, I’ve been thinking about the factors that led to Washington State being chosen as the test bed and what they may tell us about who gets chosen as the next target (after Nevada).

The first, and most obvious factor, is that the state must have some form of initiative process. The initiative process and the referendum were children of the Progressive Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement, unlike today’s progressives, was not synonymous with liberalism. If anything, it was a reaction to the masses of immigrants to the United States and the impact that they had on politics in cities and states. The Progressive Movement was anti-political machine and what better way to take power out of the hands of Tammany Hall and other political machines that catered to new immigrants as well as from the “robber barrons” than through the promotion of direct democracy. The key components were the initiative, the referendum, and the recall.

The states that adopted the direct and indirect initiative are primarily west of the Mississippi. Of the 21 states that offer some form of initiative, only four are east of the Mississippi. These are Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Ohio. A little explanation of the difference between the two types of initiatives. The direct initiative such as was seen in Washington State means the proposals that qualify go directly to the voters. By contrast, an indirect initiative is a petition to a state legislature to pass a certain bill and then, if they fail to do so, it goes to the voters to decide. This is the process used in Nevada.

The next factor that I thought would have an impact was the proportion of the state’s residents that were actually born there. I call this the “Californication” factor. In other words, people move from California to other states such as Nevada, Oregon, and Washington and bring their California attitudes with them. We see a similar pattern in the East as in-migrants from states like New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have altered the politics of states like Florida and Maine. I think state natives are less likely to be swayed by Bloomberg’s efforts.

Another factor that I thought should be considered is the degree of urbanization of the state. Urban dwellers are less connected to the land, less likely to have come from a hunting family, and more likely to see firearms as a crime problem. By contrast, the higher the percentage of gun ownership, the more likely people are going to be to stand up for their gun rights.

Below is an Excel spreadsheet that I composed using these factors along with which party holds the governorship, did the state vote for Obama, and has Everytown/MAIG registered a 503(c)(4) or (c)(3) in that state.

I have ordered the states by their average rank based upon the variables seen. The lower the average rank, the more likely the state is to be a target for Bloomberg and his henchmen (or henchmoms, as the case may be).

Let me explain how I derived the ranks for each variable.

Initiative Type – I considered the direct initiative to have less political impediments for Everytown so it was coded a “1” while the indirect initiative is a “2”.

Percentage of Urbanization – This data was taken from the Iowa Community Indicators Program which looked at the urbanization of the population of a state. This is 2010 data. I rank ordered the state from most urbanized to least urbanized.

Percentage of State Native Born – This looks at the percentage of the state’s residents that were born in that state. The rank goes from the lowest percentage of state native born to the highest percentage of people born in the state in which they are residing.

Percentage of Gun Ownership – This data was taken from estimates of gun ownership by state as of 2007. I rank ordered the states from least percentage of gun ownership to most percentage of gun ownership.

Governorship – I originally coded states with Democrat governors as a “1” with states having a Republican governor as a “3”. Upon reflection, I reversed it because a state with a Republican governor should create more impediments to gun control and thus would encourage the gun prohibitionists to seek ways around the governor.

2012 Presidential Election – This looked at who won the state:  Obama or Romney. I considered states that chose Obama would be more likely to look favorably on gun control and thus were coded a “1”. An alternative view is that these states have more low-information voters.

Everytown 503(c)(4) – Has Everytown or MAIG registered a political action non-profit in that state? If so, it means they have prepared the ground in advance of seeking an initiative. The impetus to look for this variable came from a column by David Codrea describing the move to the states by Bloomberg. This data is up-to-date as of yesterday. More states have been added since David’s first alert on their moves.

Examining these rankings, it then comes as no surprise that Nevada was the next target for a universal background check initiative. They had the lowest average of any state. The degree of urbanization – 94.2% – and the small number of state native born – 24.3% – made Nevada an ideal candidate. The fact that many of the state’s in-migrants come from California adds to the problem.

Likewise, Arizona, despite the lowest Brady Campaign score of any state (50), is also a prime candidate for a push for universal background checks. They have a highly urbanized population – 89.8% – and the second lowest number of state native born – 37.7% – of the states with an initiative. The saving grace for Arizona is that they have a robust gun culture even though their actual percentage of gun ownership is rather low.

Rounding out the top five, California and Colorado already have universal background checks and Massachusetts requires a permit to own a firearm.

Washington State came in at number six on this list. So why was Washington State chosen for the first test case instead of Nevada or Arizona? If I had to guess, money had a lot to do with it as well as a compliant media. Bill Gates had previously shown a willingness to donate to an earlier Washington State gun control initiative and Nick Hanauer was fully on board. Combine that with only two major media markets in which all three major papers endorsed the initiative and you can see why Washington State was a prime candidate. The top billionaires in Nevada tend to be either outright conservatives like Sheldon Adelson or tied to the gaming industry where they might not want to rock the boat.

Finally, there is Oregon which is sandwiched in between California and Washington. It has endured a considerable amount of in-migration from California. I don’t know enough about the gun culture and its strength in that state. The state has been trending much more liberal in the last couple of decades which could be problematic. I’d still put the state on a watch list.

I am open to suggestion on how to improve these rankings. If you can think of factors that I haven’t considered and for which I can get reliable data, please let me know. I’d be happy to add them to this data analysis.

Gun Prohibitionists To Try Ballot Initiatives

Gun prohibitionists in Washington State think that perhaps they will have more success with a gun control ballot initiative than they have had with the legislature. Their rationale is that the big evil NRA intimidates legislators and “the people” won’t be similarly swayed.

Washington Rep. Jamie Pedersen, a Democrat who had sponsored unsuccessful legislation on background checks at the state level, said a winning ballot initiative would make a statement with broad implications.

“It’s more powerful if the voters do it – as opposed to our doing it,” Pedersen said. “And it would make it easier for the Legislature to do even more.”

On Monday, proponents of universal background checks in Washington will announce their plan to launch a statewide initiative campaign that would require the collection of some 300,000 signatures, according to a person involved in the initiative planning who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to pre-empt the official announcement.

The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility has scheduled a fundraiser in Seattle at the end of next month and hopes to have a campaign budget in the millions of dollars.

 I don’t doubt that they could have a multi-million dollar budget if Mayor Bloomberg and/or Bill Gates opens their wallets. If I remember correctly, Gates was a big supporter of a 1997 Washington State initiative that went down to screaming defeat.

This all presupposes that the gun prohibtionists have a large grassroots backing and that they can mobilize them. You know, like the NRA and other gun rights organizations.

The Brady Campaign’s “director of mobilization” seems a little leery of the effort.

Brian Malte, director of mobilization at the national nonprofit lobbying group Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said passage through Congress is the ideal in order to have a national solution and so that states with strong gun laws aren’t undermined by nearby states with weaker standards. He noted that initiative campaigns are costly endeavors that can drain important, limited resources.

Still, Malte said, the ballot measures are an option to consider.

“At some point, certainly decisions need to be made about what the right time is to say we take it to the people,” Malte said.

I’m guessing the right time is right after a highly publicized mass shooting and when they think they have achieved a critical mass of low information voters.

Still Rep. Pedersen seems quite sure of himself.

Pedersen said he was working with the initiative organizers on language for the proposal, and he said the Legislature would first have another chance to adopt the measure early next year. If it fails among lawmakers again, the proposal would then automatically go to the ballot, where Pedersen said he welcomed a campaign competing against groups like the NRA.

“I’m not afraid of it at all,” Pedersen said. “The public is really with us. It’s the right policy. I think it can be useful for further progress.”

I don’t doubt that the Yale-educated Pedersen is a smart guy. I just wonder how he in touch he is with the average Washington State voter outside of King County.