Ohio Activists Fail To Get Background Check Measure On 2020 Ballot

A group of anti-gun activists has conceded defeat in their attempt to put a “universal background check” measure on the 2020 ballot in Ohio, but say they’ll continue their efforts in the hopes of getting the referendum before voters in the following election cycle.

Ohioans For Gun Safety spokesman Dennis Willard said Friday his group will instead target the November 2021 election. Willard said volunteers collected “tens of thousands” of signatures from Ohio voters to expand mandatory background checks to apply to private gun sales. But, they were still well short of the 132,887 signatures needed to start the process that likely would end with a ballot issue.

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer notes that voter turnout will be much higher in the 2020 election cycle than 2021, when there’ll be no major elections held in the state. That’s bad news for the gun control activists, because they need high turnout among soft supporters of gun control if they’re going to have any hope of passing this referendum. The lower the turnout, the worse their chances are of seeing their universal background check proposal become law.

Ohioans for Gun Safety argues, however, that they don’t want to be on the 2020 ballot because they worry their message would get lost in the tumult of the presidential campaign.

Many are already preparing for a charged political fight over the next year, and the group doesn’t want to wade into that turbulent quagmire of competing ideas, especially as advertising space is finite, and because the demand for that space will be high.

The fear is the price for that space will high be as well.​

For a grassroots organization like Ohioans for Gun Safety, spending wisely at a lower price will extend its ability to compete with opponents that are sure to push back against the measure should lawmakers refuse to deal with it themselves.​

It’s true that campaign spending on the part of Republicans and Democrats in the critical battleground state is likely to raise the cost of advertising, but if these gun control activists were really confident in their ability to get their background check bill approved by voters, the cost of advertising wouldn’t be an issue. There are no shortage of anti-gun billionaires willing to fund ballot initiatives for gun control. In fact, Mike Bloomberg and his gun control groups have spent millions of dollars backing similar referendums in Maine and Nevada, with mixed results. Maine voters rejected a background check referendum 52-48 in 2016, while Nevada’s referendum was approved with less than a 1% margin of victory that same year.

No, the real reason Ohioans for Gun Safety is now working towards the 2021 ballot is because they simply haven’t received enough support to make the deadline for the 2020 elections. The group has a December 28th deadline to turn in 132,887 valid signatures from half of the state’s 88 counties, and the anti-gun activists simply don’t have the names they need, despite months of signature-gathering efforts across the state.

I anticipate the group will be able to get the signatures they need for the measure to appear on the 2021 ballot, especially if they use the frequent campaign stops, rallies, and get-out-the-vote efforts that Democrats will be organizing across Ohio in the 2020 election cycle to gather signatures. However, given their lack of success so far, I’d say the odds of voters approving that referendum in 2021 aren’t great.