The New York Post is the closest thing we have to cheeky British tabloid journalism today. It’s worth looking at — for a New Yorker like me, anyway — as its front page often captures the hyperbole of these often hyper-partisan times.
Consider the Post’s front page the day after this midterm election. It showed a Photoshop-made image of President Barack Obama wearing nothing but a crown and a wood barrel with shoulder straps. His face was grimacing over the headline “Stripped! Emperor Has No Clothes.” Though more often reported with less pomp, the Republican takeover of Congress was the top story across America. This political shift was mostly good for gun owners and sportsmen, but the results weren’t all good. In fact, the big gun-control fights coming in 2016 have now been set by this election.
Republicans captured majority control of the U.S. Senate, as they took at least seven seats from Democrats. NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox said, “America’s gun owners sent a strong message to Washington, D.C., that their constitutional freedoms must be respected. Michael Bloomberg and national anti-gun groups were dealt a significant blow by Second Amendment supporters across the country. A clear takeaway from these elections is that candidates who support gun control do so at their political peril.”
A lot of the candidates endorsed by the NRA won on November 4. For example, Cory Gardner (R) defeated gun-control supporter Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), senatorial candidate Joni Ernst (R-IA) beat Bruce Braley (D), and Thom Tillis (R) defeated gun-control advocate Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC). In Kansas, Senator Pat Roberts (R) won. In Georgia, David Perdue (R) won. In Arkansas, Tom Cotton (R) beat incumbent Mark Pryor (D), and in West Virginia, Shelley Moore Capito (R) won, making her the first Republican senator from West Virginia in more than a half-century. Also, NRA-endorsed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) easily (despite the polls) beat anti-gun challenger Alison Grimes (D). Some notable anti-gun senators, such as Illinois’ Dick Durbin (D), did keep their seats, but most of the competitive seats went to pro-gun-rights candidates.
In the House, at press time it looked like Republicans would have at least 246 seats, the GOP’s largest majority since World War II. Speaker John Boehner (R) said he is “humbled by the responsibility the American people have placed with us.” In addition, the NRA announced that pro-gun candidates had won in “AR–2, CO–6, FL–26, IA–3, NH–1 and VA–10, among many others.” Sportsmen’s groups hope this means that the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 will again be considered and gain more momentum in this next Congress.
Voters in Illinois cast out anti-gun Governor Pat Quinn (D). In Arizona, pro-Second Amendment candidate Doug Ducey (R) beat gun-control candidate Fred DuVal (D), and Florida’s pro-Second Amendment incumbent Rick Scott (R) edged out gun-control candidate Charlie Crist. (Gun-control advocate Gabby Giffords had endorsed DuVal and Crist.) Shocking many, in Maryland, NRA-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan (R) beat Governor Martin O’Malley’s protégée Anthony Brown (D). O’Malley had signed the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, a gun-control bill that, among other things, bans the sale of 45 types of semiautomatic rifles (what the media calls “assault weapons”) and limits magazine capacity to 10 rounds.
Pro-gun-rights candidates also won governor’s races in Alabama, Wisconsin (Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker prevailed for the third time in four years), Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Idaho, Kansas and Maine. In Maine, Governor Paul R. LePage (R) defeated Michael Michaud (D), another candidate supported by Gabby Giffords’ anti-gun group.
The news wasn’t all good for gun owners, however. In Connecticut, Governor Dan Malloy (D), who had signed a massive gun ban and other Second Amendment infringements, won with 51 percent of the vote in a tight race in an overwhelmingly Democratic Party-controlled state.
Also, in Colorado, Governor John Hickenlooper (D) won with 49 percent of the vote. Hickenlooper had signed, among other things, gun-magazine restrictions that led to the recall of several anti-gun state legislators. As a result, guns were a big topic in this election. Hickenlooper had even verbally backed away from his vote to restrict the Second Amendment rights of Colorado residents.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo won re-election (though the New York Senate was taken over by Republicans). Cuomo had pushed through and signed the Safe Act, legislation that bans the sale of many types of firearms as “assault weapons” (it includes various handguns, rifles and shotguns in an ever-expansive list of what can be defined as an “assault weapon”) and, among other things, empowers psychologists, social workers and others to decide who should have their guns seized.
Funding for Land and Wildlife
A host of voter initiatives dealing with funding for wildlife, land conservation and clean water were on ballots on November 4. The Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) backed these initiatives to enhance conservation funding. The WMI reported that “the largest initiative is being considered in Florida, where an estimated $18 billion is at stake.” This was Amendment 1, a constitutional amendment designed to dedicate 33 percent of annual revenue raised from existing taxes on real estate transactions over the next 20 years to conservation projects. The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Farm Bureau and other groups opposed this initiative. Nevertheless, Florida voters approved this change to add to and improve conservation easements, wildlife management areas, wetlands and more.
New Jersey voters approved the New Jersey Open Space Preservation Funding Amendment. The measure will dedicate 6 percent of corporate business tax revenues to open space, farmland and historic preservation. The tax allocation will last from 2016 to 2045. The WMI estimates that this will send a total of $2.15 billion over the next 20 years to “acquire land prone to flooding; protect natural areas, farmland and watersheds; and provide for parks, historic preservation, underground storage-tank removal and brownfield remediation.”
California residents also voted to fund watershed protection and restoration, forest health, wetland habitat and more with a $7.5 billion bond. Maine voters approved a measure to create a $10 million bond to reduce threats to the state’s water resources, improve storm-water management and conserve habitat for recreational fisheries, waterfowl and aquatic and other wildlife species.
North Dakota residents, however, voted down a constitutional amendment that would have dedicated 5 percent of tax revenue from oil development to fund conservation and recreation over the next 25 years.
Other Voter Initiatives
Maine voters, for the second time in recent years, voted down a Humane Society of the United States-funded attempt to outlaw popular methods of bear hunting.
In West Virginia, two more counties (Mason and Roane) approved Sunday hunting. Alabama and Mississippi both approved ballot initiatives that further protect hunting and gun rights. In Mississippi, voters said “yes” to amend their state’s constitution to protect the right to hunt and fish; 18 states have passed similar protections. Alabama voters, meanwhile, passed a Sportsperson’s Bill of Rights that strengthens the state’s constitutional right to hunt. The Sportsperson’s Bill of Rights protects the right to hunt and also states that game regulations should promote conservation and management.
In Michigan, 55 percent of voters voted “no” to a ballot initiative that would have overturned a law that allows the state to establish wolf seasons in the Upper Peninsula. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R), who was re-elected on November 4, had signed a law earlier this year to allow wolf hunting. Regardless of the vote, the current law allowing wolf hunting in Michigan stands. RELATED: Michigan Wolf Hunting Continues Despite Election Results
What This Election Says About 2016
The biggest threat to gun owners, Washington State’s Initiative Measure 594, passed with 60 percent of the vote. This is the biggest gunfight we’ll likely see in national and state politics in 2016. Some voters in Washington State probably knew what they were voting for with I-594, but many may have misunderstood its wording. The official phrasing on the ballot read as such:
Initiative Measure No. 594 concerns background checks for firearm sales and transfers.
This measure would apply the currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with specific exceptions.
Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ].
I-594 prohibits someone from even picking up your gun at a gun range, unless, of course, the gun is first taken to an FFL and a background check is called in to the National Instant Background Check System (NICS). The first time someone broke this law and picked up your gun (legally considered a “transfer”), it would be a misdemeanor. The second time, it would be a felony. Also, gun-safety classes not taught at an “established range” are now illegal if there is any gun-handling involved — unless, of course, the guns go to an FFL and background checks are called in. When the course is over, all the guns would have to be transferred back again, requiring a return visit to an FFL, the payment of fees and waiting. There are some exceptions to this in the 18-page initiative, but the wording is very complex. Over time, this initiative — if it stands — will likely reduce gun ownership.
Future Affects on Gun Owners
Here’s what this will mean in the 2016 presidential race. Washington State was the first step for this “universal background check” idea to restrict normal, law-abiding gun ownership. Michael Bloomberg’s group, Everytown for Gun Safety, is on the record as saying it plans to run a similar ballot measure in Oregon in 2015 and perhaps in many more states in 2016. Congress has gone Republican. With pro-gun Democrats also in Congress, it is very unlikely that Congress will take up the “universal background check” idea in the next two years, and this will surely be an issue to watch in 2016.