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Five billionaires poured millions of dollars into promoting the nation’s toughest firearm background check law in Washington state and scored a big success for gun control that is likely to become a model for the nation.

Voters in Washington handily approved the ballot measure while defeating a competing initiative that would have prevented any background checks not authorized by the federal government.

Ballot initiative 594 will trigger a background check on almost all private sales – at gun shows, over the Internet and even sales and loans of guns between friends and family members.

In Tuesday’s returns, I-594 was being supported by more than 60 percent of voters, winning handily in nine of the 10 largest counties.

Background checks are now required only when buying from licensed dealers.

Five billionaires – Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Ballmer and Nick Hanauer – poured a total of more than $5 million into the promotion of expanded background checks in Washington state.

They outspent their opponents more than 8 to 1 and flooded the airwaves with ads, said Alan Gottlieb, a Second Amendment advocate who fought I-594 as head of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

I-591, a competing measure sponsored by gun-rights groups that calls for barring background checks that go beyond the federal standard, was losing statewide in Tuesday’s returns, with 56 percent of voters rejecting it.

“We’re running behind. We have over 10,000 votes to be counted, and most are from eastern Washington,” Gottlieb said shortly after 9 p.m. Pacific Time. “We’ll improve throughout the night but I don’t think we’ll be able to cross the 50 percent threshold. The $10 million-plus flooded in and a lot of it came in over the last few days. It’s hard to compete with that, hard to compete with five billionaires who writing checks for $1 million.”

Gottlieb said the National Rifle Association “took a walk” on this battle, never really showing up to help neutralize the flow of money from billionaire anti-gunners.

“The NRA took a walk on this one. They didn’t really help us at all. They spent $400,000, mostly on a website,” Gottlieb said. “They ran no TV spots, no radio spots and no newspaper ads. They really weren’t part of our coalition, and the national implications of this are frightening. They’re already collecting signatures to get this on the ballot in Nevada next year, and have Oregon and Arizona on their list next.”

Gates, Allen, Ballmer, Hanauer and others paid for ads featuring emotional pleas by survivors of mass shootings that would not have been stopped by a background check. The campaign also drew appearances from victims of “gun violence,” such as former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and families of the victims of the Sandy Hook, Connecticut, school shooting.

Here’s a look at some of the other ballot questions before voters Tuesday:


In Colorado, voters rejected to the third time an attempt to give “personhood” to unborn human beings with respect to the state’s criminal code. The latest proposal asked voters about adding unborn children to criminal code as a way to strengthen protections for pregnant women.

In North Dakota, a similar measure was on the ballot and it also failed by a margin of 64 percent. It would have provided “the inalienable right to life” for humans at “any stage of development.” Supporters and opponents differed on what impact it might have on abortion regulations.


Oregon and Alaska made a bid to become the third and fourth states to legalize retail sales of marijuana to anyone old enough to drink, following Washington state and Colorado in the 2012 election. A measure was on the ballot in Washington, D.C., that would make it legal to grow and possess marijuana, but not sell it. Oregon’s proposal passed while the jury was still out on Alaska’s ballot measure early Wednesday morning.

Florida, meanwhile, could have become the first Southern state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, but that measure got shot down by voters, receiving 57 percent approval in a measure that required 60 percent approval to pass. Twenty-three other states already allow medical marijuana but none in the South.


In Massachusetts, voters passed up a chance to say “No” to casinos. They rejected a measure that would have repealed a 2011 law authorizing development of a slots parlor and up to three resort casinos. There are none in the state now, but casino plans have been approved for three cities across the state.

A victory for the anti-casino forces would have marked the first time — at least since the modern era of U.S. gambling began in 1931 — that a state reversed a major legislative decision to expand gambling.


Voters in Arkansas and Nebraska approved increases in their states’ minimum wages. In Arkansas, it will rise from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 by 2017, in Nebraska from $7.25 to $9. Two other states — Alaska and South Dakota — also were voting on minimum wage increases.


Florida voters passed a measure that designates billions of dollars to conservation efforts over the next 20 years. Amendment 1 will draw its funding from an existing real estate tax, and would dedicate 33 percent of it annually to conservation. That would be about a billion a year.


In Missouri, voters defeated a measure — opposed by teachers’ unions — that would have tied teachers’ jobs and salaries to the performance of their students.

Teachers unions were supporting an initiative in Washington state that would reduce class size and increase staffing support in grades K-12. State financial experts believe the measure would eventually cost the state about $2 billion a year to pay for thousands more teachers and other school staff.

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