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Can Gun Control Advocates Ever Wield as Much Influence as the NRA? A Test Case

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Several months ago I wrote a blog in which I pointed out that Mike Bloomberg's access to media at all levels would make him a formidable opponent of the NRA when it came to talking to non-gun owners about guns. The NRA has a lock on communicating with the gun-owning community, but a majority of Americans don't own guns. So how do you engage this usually-silent majority to counteract the power and influence of the NRA? Well here was a good test case.

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a bill introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) that more clearly defines domestic violence and strengthens what is already a federal prohibition against the purchase of guns by individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse. The NRA opposed it rather quietly, sending a non-public letter to some senators, but so far avoiding any public comment on the debate. They did get Joyce Malcolm, a law professor, to show up and lecture the Senate panel on the dangers of restricting the 2nd Amendment, but their stealth approach to this issue reflects the fact that they have been making a major marketing push towards women as owners and users of guns and opposing domestic abuse laws would, from the perspective of most women, put them on the wrong side. Even the NRA finds that 2nd Amendment "rights" take a back seat to marketing strategies.

It can't be said, however, that Mike Bloomberg shares the NRA's reluctance to make a lot of public noise over this issue. On the eve of the Senate hearing, Everytown ran a 30-second television spot in media markets covering territories belonging to Senators Kelly Ayotte, Jeff Flake and Dean Heller, three Republicans who last year voted against the Manchin-Toomey compromise after Sandy Hook and whom, it is felt, may this time with Klobuchar's bill, be swayed to go the other way. The ad is pretty dramatic and the Everytown website also contains a quick-click method to send a message to Ayotte, Heller and Flake.

Last month the Everytown group won a big one when their pressure pushed the mega-retailer Target to issue a public statement requesting that shoppers refrain from bringing guns into their stores. Target's decision was a slap in the face of the NRA which has been pushing a roll-back of gun-free zones as part of their strategy to widen the acceptance of concealed-carry laws. But the strategy used by Bloomberg's group against Target was, if you'll pardon the pun, a very targeted affair. Inviting local media to a picket-line around a store entrance is one thing; inundating elected officials with emails and calls is quite another. The latter tactic has always been seen as a major weapon in the NRA's arsenal for swaying votes. For the first time, the other side in the gun debate seems to be doing the same thing.

It's not really the number of phone calls or emails that makes politicians respond. It's a less tangible thing that we call the intensity of the folks sending their messages, a devotion to the cause that the NRA has diligently developed amongst its membership over many years. When something terrible and high-profile occurs like Sandy Hook, it's not very difficult to get a grassroots response from either side. But a Senate hearing isn't usually the stuff that makes for media buzz, so it will be interesting to see the degree to which Bloomberg's group can generate a grassroots response to their ad. If they do, the playing field that has been tilted for so long in the NRA's direction may just start moving back the other way.