Gun Control By Popular Vote: Nevada and Maine

Seeing a lack of action on gun control by federal lawmakers, gun safety advocacy groups have recently shifted their focus to enacting stricter gun legislation at the state level through ballot measures. In the 2016 general election, voters in Nevada and Maine will decide whether to enact expanded background check requirements for firearm sales and transfers within their states.

This state-by-state approach follows the example of the same-sex marriage movement, in which advocates pushed for state-level victories before federal action.

Federally licensed firearms dealers are currently required by law to run background checks on prospective firearm buyers. These background checks prevent sales to those prohibited by federal law from owning a firearm, such as people with felony convictions, severe mental illnesses, or a history of domestic abuse. However, federal law currently allows an individual to purchase a firearm without a background check from an unlicensed firearms dealer, such as an individual met online or at a gun show.

The ballot measures in Nevada and Maine both seek to close this loophole by introducing state laws requiring a background check to be performed by a federally licensed dealer in nearly all firearm purchases and transfers, even those between unlicensed individuals. Both proposed laws allow for exceptions to the requirement in cases such as the transfer of firearms between immediate family members, the sale of antique firearms, and temporary gun transfers for hunting or use at shooting ranges.

These laws follow the example of the state of Washington, which recently rolled out gun control legislation by way of the ballot box. After passing with 59% of the vote in November 2014, Washington’s Initiative 594 created a state law requiring background checks on all gun sales and transfers, minus a list of exempt situations similar to those of the Nevada and Maine proposals.

Intense campaigns — and intense spending on campaigns — to vote “yes” or “no” on these ballot measures have taken root in both states. Groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA), concerned that the ballot measures would infringe upon the ability of law-abiding citizens to own a gun, have donated to campaigns to vote “no” on the Nevada and Maine ballot measures. Groups such as as Everytown for Gun Safety have donated to state PACs campaigning for a “yes” vote, believing that implementing universal background check laws can reduce rates of gun violence and pave the way for further action on firearm regulation.

As of July 2016, the Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership Fund had spent around $1.8 million on support campaigns, with the National Rifle Association spending about $40,000. In Nevada, Nevadans for Background Checks had spent roughly $4 million as of June 2016 in support of the ballot measure, and Nevadans for State Gun Rights had spent about $25,000 on opposition campaigning in the same time period.

Stay tuned to the BallotReady blog for more on the gun control measures on your November ballot! In the next few days, we’ll be looking at other proposals impacting the Second Amendment debate across the country, including a high-profile initiative in California that focuses on ammunition.

BallotReady is the only nonpartisan online voter guide that provides personalized, easy-to-use, and accessible information about your ballot. From the top of the ticket to the very bottom, BallotReady helps voters compare candidates based on stances on issues, biography, and endorsements. We make it easy to vote informed on every race and referendum. See every race and referendum on your Ballot here!

By Maddy Scott, BallotReady Intern