When former Mayor Mike Bloomberg first announced that he was ponying up $50 million to fund gun control, it didn’t take the NRA long to react. They quickly published a long commentary on their NRA-ILA website that basically accused Bloomberg of buying his way into grass-roots advocacy by creating the illusion of a mass movement through “slickly-produced” television ads and other media-driven appeals. The NRA glossed over the fact that some of Bloomberg’s money would go to augment the work of Shannon Watts and her Moms Demand Action campaign which has certainly become a national advocacy organization, even though the size of its membership doesn’t yet compare to the NRA.
I wrote a column on this blog when Bloomberg’s new campaign hit the wires in which I poured some cold water over his plan to fund political activity that would result in new gun control laws, particularly laws that widened the scope of background checks. But I focused more on whether the data on background checks really proved that it was an effective way to deal with gun violence, which I happen to believe is not the case. I didn’t think it was yet time to judge the degree to which fifty million bucks, no matter how it was spent, might tilt the gun-control playing field away from the NRA. But now I’m beginning to see the direction in which things seem to be going and I don’t think the news for the NRA is all that good.
Last week Bloomberg’s newly-funded campaign, Everytown for Gun Safety, released a report on school shootings since Sandy Hook. The report painted a grim picture of more than one shooting per week, and within 24 hours this statistic was repeated by President Obama and immediately went viral on Youtube and everywhere else. The reaction to Obama’s comment was so intense on both sides was so intense that Politicfact.com ran one of its Pulitzer Prize-winning fact checks on the Everytown report and concluded that it “contained some elements of truth” but was “mostly false.” Their judgement was based on the report’s counting of every gun incident whether it involved shooting at unarmed students or school staff at all, even including shootings that took place on school playgrounds at night after the school was closed.
Yesterday I received an email letter from the NRA that linked to a story about the Everytown report that is now posted on the website of the NRA-ILA. And it was this email that made me begin to think that, when all is said and done, Bloomberg’s fifty million could make a difference in turning the advocacy tide against the NRA. Because the problem with the NRA’s response to the school shootings report is not that what the NRA said was incorrect (it wasn’t,) nor that they quoted other sources who are generally pro-NRA (they didn’t.) The real problem is that unless you are a member of the NRA you’ll never even read their response, and successful advocacy ultimately gets down to who will listen to you and who won’t.
Despite all the nonsense about internet “democracy” and the ability of grass-roots movements to use the “free” digital environment to promote their points of view, the fact is that when Bloomberg says something that’s repeated by Obama and goes into overdrive on the internet, the former Mayor of New York is getting his message out to a much wider audience than any group which listens to the NRA. Energizing gun owners to take sides in a pro-con debate over gun rights is a no-brainer that the NRA wins every time out. But getting non-gun owners, who are a majority of Americans, to understand and support the 2nd Amendment is a very different kettle of fish. The NRA better figure out how to do it or Bloomberg will get his control agenda on the cheap.