By Marc H. Morial
“The midterm elections have upended the old tropes about what you can or can’t do or say about guns during campaign season…This year gun sense champions around the country were re-elected. And campaigns around the country showed that candidates can run on the gun issue, not away from it – and win.” – Everytown for Gun Safety memo
There’s no getting around it. November 4 was not a good day for many of the ideals and policies supported by the National Urban League and the communities we serve. In the coming months, we can expect to see renewed battles over the Affordable Care Act, immigration, voting rights and a host of other issues affecting jobs and opportunity for middle and working class Americans.
But all is not lost. There were a few bright spots on Election Day. For example, four states passed legislation to raise the minimum wage – Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. This follows a growing trend, considering that as of last summer, 23 states and the District of Columbia had minimum wage rates higher than the federal rate of $7.25. More states are expected to follow as the debate over a federal minimum wage remains deadlocked in Congress.
Another Election Day victory that has not gotten much attention was the passage of a major gun safety measure in Washington state and the election of national and state legislators who openly supported common sense gun safety legislation in the face of vigorous opposition by the National Rifle Association (NRA). In the only state where voters had the opportunity to directly cast a ballot for or against a specific gun safety measure, the people of Washington state voted to require background checks for all firearms sales, including at gun shows and on the Internet. This was an historic victory that may pave the way for other states.
As with the minimum wage, states are not waiting for federal gun safety legislation. They are leading the way. According to a recent report on MSNBC.com, on November 4, Washington state became “the seventh state to require background checks on all gun sales and the fifth (after Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware and New York) to do so since the shooting inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.”
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, who in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting signed one of the nation’s toughest gun safety bills in 2013, was among a number of gun safety champion midterm election winners. In Maryland, Attorney General-elect Brian Frosh made no secret of his support for common sense gun safety measures, and in Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada and Oregon, winning state legislative candidates highlighted their gun safety records throughout their campaigns.
Everytown for Gun Safety, the organization backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and for which I serve on its advisory board, has been in the forefront of many recent state efforts to pass common sense gun laws. The organization mounted a vigorous campaign in support of the Washington state gun safety bill. It has now set its sights on Nevada where it has already collected hundreds of thousands of signatures in support of a 2016 background check ballot initiative.
According to a post-election memo from the group, “For decades, the gun lobby has held the field to themselves. We’re finally meeting them on their turf and showing them – and the legislators in their pockets – that Americans will stand up for public safety. If elected officials won’t change the laws that make it all too easy for dangerous people to get guns, we’ll change our elected officials…”
Everytown for Gun Safety President John Feinblatt added, “When Americans vote on public safety measures to prevent gun violence, gun safety wins.” But as we applaud this important midterm election victory, we cannot rest until every state and the federal government honor the demands of 90 percent of Americans who support background checks and other commonsense gun safety laws nationwide.
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.