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“Universal” Background Checks Aren’t as Universally Popular as You’ve Been Led to Believe

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

“Universal” Background Checks Aren’t as Universally Popular as You’ve Been Led to Believe

Advocates of so-called “universal” background checks constantly cite their own polling data to claim that the vast majority of Americans support these measures. But, when these measures have actually been presented to voters, support is nothing close to universal. Take for example the background check ballot initiatives on the 2016 ballots in Maine and Nevada.

  • Question 3 in Maine, requiring background checks for sales by non-licensed dealers, was defeated by 3.6 percentage points despite a more than five-to-one spending advantage in favor of the pro-Yes side.

o   Everytown for Gun Safety donated more than $5.288 million and provided the majority of the donations to both ballot measure committees (Maine Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense Fund and Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership Fund). In contrast, the NRA-ILA spent $1.177 million.

o   In terms of cost per vote, the support side spent $17.61 on each of the 366,770 votes it received. The opposition side spent $3.19 for each of its 394,157 votes.

  • In Nevada, Question 1 passed by less than one percentage point. Supporters of the background check proposition spent $18,913,032.54, or $33.86 per vote. Opponents of the measure spent $6,639,608.20 or $12.10 per vote.

o   The top donors supporting the measure were Everytown for Gun Safety ($14.5 million in total contributions) and Michael Bloomberg ($3.5 million). The NRA-ILA led the opposition with $6.5 million.

o   Supporters of the proposition outspent those opposed by a nearly three-to-one margin.

  • In both Maine and Nevada, opposition to the background check ballot measures outpaced support for both candidates in the Presidential election.


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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.