In Campaign For Tougher Gun Laws, Advocates Focus On States | KUOW News and Information

In Campaign For Tougher Gun Laws, Advocates Focus On States

Jan 6, 2016
Originally published on January 6, 2016 4:20 pm

When President Obama announced new gun control measures on Tuesday, the White House said they were needed because Congress failed to address the problem of gun violence.

Gun control advocates also are frustrated with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. That's why they've been focused on changing state laws in recent years. And they're succeeding.

Oregon is one state where gun control advocates won last year with the passage of Senate Bill 941, which requires background checks for private party gun sales.

At a bill-signing ceremony last May, Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, thanked the national gun control groups that campaigned for the law: Everytown For Gun Safety, Americans For Responsible Solutions and the Brady Campaign.

Gun groups are starting to take notice of wins like this.

"Oregon has been a blue state for a long time but a blue state that has passed virtually no gun control," says Kevin Starrett, executive director of the Oregon Firearms Federation.

He says what changed is money — lots of it.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pledged to spend at least $50 million of his own money to get tougher gun laws across the country. Some of that cash went to the Everytown For Gun Safety Action Fund. The group spent almost $800,000 on lobbying during Oregon's 2015 legislative session, making it the biggest spender in the state last year.

There were lots of television ads, too. "When a New York billionaire comes to a state like Oregon with that much money, obviously it's a game changer," Starrett says.

Gun control supporters celebrated victories in other states last year as well. In October, Delaware became the ninth state to pass a law designed to prevent domestic abusers from getting guns.

There were plenty of setbacks, too. Texas passed an open-carry law that allows handgun license holders to carry their guns in visible holsters.

Gun control advocates say what's important is that now they're a force at state capitals that can begin to counter powerful groups like the National Rifle Association.

"We are going toe-to-toe with them. We are showing up at our state houses. We are pushing back against bad bills and supporting good bills," says Shannon Watts, who founded the group Moms Demand Action, which is a part of Everytown for Gun Safety.

Watts says her group has more than 3.5 million members and chapters in every state. The NRA has said it has 5 million members.

In her campaign for tougher gun laws, Watts sees a model in the battle for same-sex marriage.

"This situation is very much like marriage equality in America. People felt like that happened overnight but really there were activists on the ground for decades," Watts says.

Then she says states started approving gay marriage and eventually it was made legal across the country. That prospect has groups like the NRA preparing for battle.

The next big fight could be in Nevada. Gun control advocates gathered enough signatures to put an initiative on next November's ballot that would require background checks for all gun sales in the state.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

When President Obama announced new gun control measures yesterday, he said they were needed because Congress has failed to address gun violence. Gun control advocates are also frustrated with Congress. That's why they have been focusing on changing state laws. And as NPR's Jeff Brady reports, they're succeeding.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Oregon is one state where gun control advocates won last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KATE BROWN: Today, it's my great pleasure to sign into law Senate Bill 941.

BRADY: That's Oregon governor Kate Brown last May. The new law requires background checks for private-party gun sales.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BROWN: There you go.

(APPLAUSE)

BRADY: At that ceremony, Brown made special mention of gun control groups that campaigned for the law.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BROWN: I also want to extend my thanks to the members of Everytown for Gun Safety, Americans for Responsible Solutions and the Brady Campaign.

BRADY: Supporters of stricter gun laws are starting to win more often at state capitals, and their opposition is taking notice. Kevin Starrett is executive director of the Oregon Firearms Federation.

KEVIN STARRETT: Oregon has been a blue state for a long time but a blue state that has passed virtually no gun control.

BRADY: Until now, says Starrett, what changed is money - lots of it. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pledged to spend at least $50 million of his own money to get tougher gun laws across the country. Some of that cash went to the Everytown for Gun Safety action fund. The group spent almost $800,000 on lobbying during Oregon's 2015 legislative session. That dwarfed the National Rifle Association and made the gun-control group the biggest spender in the state last year. And, Starrett says, there were lots of television ads, too.

STARRETT: When a New York billionaire comes to a state like Oregon with that much money, obviously it's a game changer.

BRADY: Aside from Oregon, gun-control supporters celebrated victories in other states last year. In October, Delaware became the ninth state to pass a law designed to prevent domestic abusers from getting guns. There were plenty of setbacks, too. Texas passed an open-carry law that allows handgun license-holders to carry their guns in visible holsters. Gun control advocates say what's important is now they're a force at state capitals that can begin to counter powerful groups like the NRA. Shannon Watts started the Moms Demand Action, which is part of Everytown for Gun Safety.

SHANNON WATTS: Finally, now that we have over three and a half million members and we have a chapter in every single state of the country, you know, we are going toe-to-toe with them. We are showing up at our state houses. We are pushing back against bad bills and supporting good bills.

BRADY: In her fight for tougher gun laws, Watts sees a model in the battle for same-sex marriage.

WATTS: This situation is very much like marriage equality in America. People felt like that happened overnight. But really there were activists on the ground for decades.

BRADY: Then, she says, states started approving gay marriage, and eventually it was made legal across the country. She predicts a series of state victories will eventually lead to stricter gun laws everywhere. That prospect has groups like the NRA preparing for battle. It looks like the next big fight will be in Nevada. Gun control advocates gathered enough signatures to put an initiative on next November's ballot that would require background checks for all gun sales in the state. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.