Republicans’ resounding victory this week pushed federal gun control legislation even further out of reach for proponents of stronger gun regulations.
More than 90-percent of National Rifle Association-backed congressional candidates prevailed on Tuesday, bolstering the ranks of gun rights advocates in both chambers.
The gun lobby also has a powerful ally in incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellThe Memo: Winners and losers from the battle over health care GOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Under pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support MORE, who is highly unlikely to bring to the floor any bills on that would tighten firearm restrictions.
“There’s no appetite for gun control in Washington,” NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said. “We now have a Senate leader who is pro-Second Amendment, so it will be more difficult for them to pass gun control measures.”
Gun control advocates, who poured tens of millions of dollars into the election cycle, maintain that they made important strides at the state level, including a win on a Washington State ballot measure expanding background checks for gun sales.
Yet even they acknowledged that the odds of federal action in Washington in the next Congress just got a lot longer.
"After Tuesday’s midterm results, it looks even more apparent that it’s not going to be anytime soon,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, acknowledged.
“But make no mistake, our ultimate goal is for federal legislation to finish the job around background checks,” he added. “It may not be tomorrow, but we’re not going anywhere until it passes.”
The NRA duked it out with gun control groups in the midterm elections, endorsing 279 congressional candidates and spending more than $25 million. The group's campaign efforts were overwhelmingly successful, as more than 90 percent of the candidates it backed won their races.
Gun control groups boasted a similar outcome. Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, singlehandedly outspent the NRA, injecting $50 million into gun control efforts through the group Everytown for Gun Safety and other initiatives. Everytown won nearly 90 percent of the 82 congressional races it stepped into.
Meanwhile, Americans for Responsible Solutions, a group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) also spent millions of dollars endorsing 16 congressional candidates. Slightly less than half won their races.
Despite the Republican gains in Congress, gun control groups contend their efforts yielded significant victories in state contests around the country, building momentum for gun control outside of Washington
“While gun lobbies can bully politicians, they can’t bully the American people,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Chief among those wins was the passage of the Washington State ballot measure to require universal background checks on all gun sales. The state will become the fifth state since the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut in 2012 — and the seventh state overall — to impose the restrictions.
Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, California, and Rhode Island already have laws requiring universal background checks, as does Washington, D.C.
While federal regulations require background checks for gun sales from licensed dealers, these states extend the rules to people buying guns from private sellers or receiving them as gifts.
Gun control groups say universal background checks will help keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
Advocates say the Washington State measure serves as further evidence that voters are in favor of gun control, even if Republicans in Congress are not.
They cite a recent Quinnipiac University poll finding that 92 percent of gun owners and 86 percent of Republican voters support universal background checks for gun sales.
Washington will eventually come around, they contend.
“Hopefully, they’ll see this is politically advantageous and the voters are with them,” said Zach Silk, campaign manager for the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, the group that pushed for universal background checks in the state.
Silk said the gun-control measure that passed in Washington state is a response by voters to the “unconscionable inaction by our leaders in Congress."
“We believe this model can work in any state in the country,” he added.
Next up, gun control groups are turning their attention to similar efforts in Nevada and Oregon.
Meanwhile, the Brady Campaign is setting its sights on 17 states that have a ballot initiative process like Washington state, reasoning that advocates can bring the issue directly to the voters, rather than relying on legislation.
In addition to Nevada and Oregon, those states include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.
By tackling gun control at the state level, advocates hope they can eventually pressure Congress into acting on federal gun reform.
“We’re not giving up on Washington,” said Howard Wolfson, one of Bloomberg’s advisers. “But Mayor Bloomberg is convinced that Washington right now is broken and dysfunctional and you’re not going to get a lot of movement in the current climate, which is why we’re focusing our efforts on the states.”