Gun Control Ballot Measure Raises Direct Democracy Questions

Californian’s embrace of direct democracy continues to entrance those who want to legislate from the outside or to undo legislative actions. As explained in Laurel Rosenhall’s column Friday a bill intended to limit direct democracy has not reduced the number of measures that will appear on November’s ballot. Perhaps this is a result of circumstance — the lower signature count necessary to qualify measures or the decision of the legislature to crowd all initiatives on the General Election ballot.

The tools of direct democracy are available to those who want to set an agenda or to force the Legislature into action, or to reverse legislative action. I’m guilty of this myself both in being a proponent of initiatives that changed laws, and in the case of the workers comp initiative that never went before voters, a measure that pushed the legislature into action it probably would not have taken without the persuasive power of a coming, popular proposition.

The power to undo legislative action is a course I never participated in, which brings me to try and understand the strategy to refer to voters the six gun related bills signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

A referendum to halt a bill from becoming law must gather about 365,000 signatures in 90 days. That means 365,000 qualified signatures for each measure. To be sure the proponents net enough valid signatures they realistically need about 425,000 signatures. Each.

That means the proponents need over 2.5 million signatures in 90 days. Sure, a single gun advocate and registered voter would probably sign all six petitions but that is still a lot of signatures in a short time period. It won’t be done by volunteers alone. The process will be costly.

Which brings the question of strategy.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s gun measure, Proposition 63, is on the November ballot. True, the proposition is not identical in every way to the six bills signed by the governor, but close enough that the gun advocates want nothing to do with the bills or the initiative.

Funds will be needed to oppose the initiative. Would the funds be better spent opposing the initiative than funding the six-part petition drive?

The quandary for gun supporters is they face a two-front war.

It is doubtful that the referendums could qualify to appear on this November’s ballot, although that is probably the proponent’s goal. If enough signatures are gathered but miss the ballot, the bills are frozen until the voters have a say in the 2018 election.

If the gun supporters defeat the initiative but ignore the bills, the legislation still becomes law, even if an initiative defeat measures the sentiments of the electorate against the gun regulations.

If referendums are pursued and there are few resources left over to battle the initiative it could pass and become law.

If the referendums effort fails to qualify does that undermine the spirit to oppose Proposition 63?

If the referendums drive is successful in freezing the gun laws does that set a positive tone for Proposition 63 opponents?

And where will the money come from to do it all?

You can follow progress of the referendum effort on the Facebook page, Vetogunmageddon.

Joel Fox is editor of Fox & Hounds and president of the Small Business Action Committee.

This piec was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily