How the I-594 Gun Control Initiative Passed in Washington State

I-594 in Washington State is a horribly written initiative.  It consists of 18 pages of legalese that seems more intent on trapping legal gun owners than on reducing violent crime. Yet, it passed with almost 60% of the vote. How did this happen? David Kopel did a thorough analysis of what happened. There is a long history of disarmist initiatives that have started with strong majority support in the polling, only to find on election day the support has evaporated and they lose by large margins. I had some hope that this might happen in Washington State with I-594. It did not. Here are the reasons that I believe that Second Amendment supporters lost this fight . . .

1.   The disarmists had millions of dollars to use, funded by Michael Bloomberg’s  Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Sense, along with millions more donated by Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Paul Allen, and Nick Hanauer.

Data reported by the Public Disclosure Commission indicates that these five men, and their spouses, contributed more than half of the total $10.3 million raised to pass I-594. Other wealthy Seattle-area elitists have added considerably more to the pot.

This bought saturation of the airwaves and mailboxes with highly deceptive ads. It was a very well-designed and effective campaign, aimed at the majority of people who do not understand the law well.

2.  The old media were all in for this campaign. They were extremely one-sided and partisan. If a contrary message was to get out, it would have to be done outside the old media. Here is a report a month before the election:

Today’s Daily Olympian carries a story asserting that controversial Initiative 594 “doesn’t create a gun registry,” while yesterday’s Everett Herald endorsed the 18-page gun control measure, and Saturday’s Seattle Times carries an op-ed piece touting I-594’s passage.

That doesn’t count the KCPQ true/false critique of television advertisements that labels an advertisement for Initiative 591 “mostly false” while saying a competing ad for I-594 is “mostly true.” Perhaps the negative reaction from readers to all of these is a strong indication that a growing number of Evergreen State voters are crying “foul” about what they believe is biased press coverage of the dueling initiatives campaign.

To reinforce this view, David Workman characterizes this report by the Seattle Times as an October Surprise:

The Seattle Times recommended a “No” vote on I-591 back on July 5, while endorsing rival Initiative 594, the 18-page gun control measure. Today’s story on the I-591 campaign claim that I-591 is supported by law enforcement in the form of two major organizations, the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs (WACOPS) and Washington State Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association (WSLEFIA) is dubbed “half true” by the newspaper’s “Truth Needle.”

The old media was careful to avoided mentioning law enforcement opposition:

The I-591 campaign has been running at a severe disadvantage, outspent nine or ten-to-one, overwhelmed by the I-594 $10.1 million war chest. But they have active-duty law enforcement overwhelmingly on their side, a fact that the gun control crowd has danced around, and most of the mainstream press has almost religiously avoided reporting.

After a year and a half of promoting I-594, once it had been approved by the electorate, the major media changed their terminology, finally calling the initiative what it is: gun control:

After 18 months of reporting and editorializing, and not until the day after the election, did the headlines acknowledge today what gun rights activists have been saying so long about Initiative 594: It’s a gun control measure, as affirmed by the Seattle Times and Seattle P-I.com.

3.  The strategy to defeat I-594 centered around offering a substitute initiative, I-591. Most of the pro-gun effort was spent on promoting I-591. That did not correct the deception that was being promoted with I-594. Only about $600,000 was spent on getting out information debunking the I-594 ads. That was about 6% of what was spent promoting I-594, which doesn’t count the millions in unpaid support it was given by the old media and it was nowhere near enough. Most voters never heard or read any of the opposition. Here is a personal report from examiner.com commenter, Difranco:

Dave. After spending two weeks doorbelling in southern Thurston county then spending 22 days in eastern WA hunting for deer and elk. Almost every hunter / gun owner I spoke to didn’t know it was a gun control initiative. This was especially true of the over 50 crowd who don’t spend much if any time on the internet.

The NRA dropped the ball on this. They should have started back in early summer. Not focused solely on the Puget sound, and dropped at least $1 million on TV spots the last three weeks running up to the election.

Here is another form a commenter on Freerepublic.com:

I live in Washington state. There was no effective advertising against 594. I saw no ad stating the facts about the law, or the restrictions or the way it can turn a normal citizen into a lawbreaker or even a felon. There were MANY ads showing peoples faces that were killed by a person that had domestic abuse history and should not have had a weapon. Of course they never said that an accusation of domestic abuse does not have to be proven in court. Nor did they say whether the gun was purchased or loaned. It is a typical liberal law. It makes people feel good, but does not correct the problem (like laws make evil unable to to be perpetrated).

The amount of confusion created by the dueling initiatives and the lack of any effective messaging to confront the deceptive I-594 ads can be shown from the fact that  10% of the voters who voted for I-591 also voted for I-594.

4.  The disarmists that ran the I-594 campaign ran a very effective get out the vote and targeted campaign. They used sophisticated internet tools to identify voters who could be swayed and to shape their message to them.  I did not see anything like it on the opposition side.  This sort of effort takes considerable money and expertise. It works best with voters who are relatively ignorant of the issues. If, through information gathered from sources such as Google, you can determine who is a single mother living in an urban center and can then send targeted, emotional messages based on that information, it’s a powerful campaign tool.

5.  Eighteen months of priming the population to support “universal background checks” in the national media did not hurt.  UBCs were always touted as having the support of 90% of the voters.  If so, with the tremendously one-sided media campaign, I-594 should have won with at least 85% of the vote. Clearly the 90% figure was simply the result of a push poll, or an ambiguous question that could be taken many ways. In this election, with much in their favor, I-594 received a little less than 60% of the vote.

6.   There was a school shooting just days before the election. While I-594 would have done nothing to prevent that shooting, it played directly into the deceptive ad campaign run in favor of I-594. We cannot know how much the shooting added to the I-594 victory. One of the campaign supporters, Nick Hanauer, briefly put on his facebook page “we need more school shootings!!!” before retracting the statement.

The victory of the disarmists in Washington State has emboldened them. They see that they can buy an election with enough money and the support of the old media.  They expect to export this technique to other states. An effort to get on the ballot for 2016 is well on the way in Nevada.  Oregon, Maine, and Arizona are are also facing planned initiatives.

If Second Amendment supporters are to succeed in fighting these efforts, a different strategy needs to be employed. A lot more money will be needed than was used in Washington state.  Plans will have to be made to counter the ad barrage and the old media bias. A significant and sophisticated get out the vote campaign will be needed to counter the one used by Bloomberg’s paid experts.

The time to consider how to fight these efforts is now. It would have been best if a strong, coordinated effort had been mounted in Washington State. It was not, and now we have to deal with the results. The next fight is likely in Nevada. Who will lead the fight there? We will find out if the initiative has enough signatures to be turned in on Tuesday and it may take a few weeks to verify them.

Can Billionaires buy elections? If there is little opposition, and the old media is on your side, the answer, apparently, is yes.

©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
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