Today's announcement by billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg of the creation of Everytown for Gun Safety, a new political organization committed to electing pro-gun control legislators, is just the boost the gun control movement needs. The failure of Congress to enact reform in the wake of Newtown, despite widespread support in the polls, has discouraged many gun control supporters. When proposals to enhance background checks has 90 percent support but fail even to get through the Senate, gun control advocates have reason to be worried.
That's why Bloomberg's new organization is so important. Background check reform was defeated by the effective political mobilization of gun enthusiasts by the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups. The NRA and its allies were able to swamp senators offices with calls, letters, and emails against reform. Senators, especially from swing states, became convinced that voting to improve background checks would stir up single-issue, pro-gun voters on Election Day. Not without reason has the NRA been considered one of the most powerful political players in Washington.
Bloomberg is promising to bring those same types of political operations used by the NRA to the gun control movement. Everytown for Gun Safety will be devoted to identifying and scoring pro-gun control candidates; providing them with contributions and independent expenditures; and turning out the vote for them on election day. Everytown also aims to be an active membership organization for supporters of gun safety laws -- connecting them up in a political network that will promote the sharing of information and additional means of raising funds. With $50 million in financing from Bloomberg, Everytown will have funding unprecedented among gun control groups devoted to political advocacy.
Bloomberg understands that the lack of political mobilization has cost gun control advocates. The NRA is effective because it can turn out voters for its candidates. The same is true of other major effective political groups, like Planned Parenthood. Although the gun control movement has other important political players, like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Gabrielle Giffords' Americans for Responsible Solutions, Bloomberg is promising to build an active membership organization with a few million members. That's something the gun control movement has never really had.
There are obvious hurdles to any gun control advocacy group. There are a lot of single-issue, pro-gun voters in America but not a lot of single-issue, pro-gun-control voters. Everytown, to be successful, will have to inspire more people who support gun control to make this the sole issue they vote on in primary and general elections. It's also easier for gun rights advocates to mobilize because they are united by a common hobby -- shooting -- and all that it entails. They network at gun ranges, read similar periodicals and websites, and follow the same Twitter feeds. That means that information can reach them easily and they can be political mobilized to call officials or support a given candidate. Gun control advocates aren't united in the same way, which makes mobilization more difficult.
Perhaps Bloomberg's $50 million will help. That's what he's betting on -- and why gun control supporters should be buoyed by today's news.