Until recently, conventional wisdom had it that nobody could go up against the NRA and win. They had too much money, too much clout, too many politicians doing their bidding and, most of all, a dedicated and energized membership that could swing public opinion and election results their way. They were so strong and so effective that in 2013 they even kept the mildest legislative compromise from getting through Congress after the horrifying tragedy at Sandy Hook.
But that was then and this is now. And the now I am referring to is the news that another billionaire named Bill Gates has teamed up with Mike Bloomberg to challenge the NRA in a Washington State initiative that would require background checks for all firearm transfers conducted within the state. Now Bloomberg may be a pretty rich guy, make no mistake about it, but he’s still in the minor leagues when compared to Gates who is not only worth somewhere north of 60 billion real dollars, but has spent the last decade doing a pretty effective job of giving it away. When he decides to get his money behind something, we’re not talking about the 50 million that Bloomberg is putting up this year to deal with guns, we’re looking at the 1.5 billion that the Gates Foundation spent last year on only one of four major initiatives – global development – alone.
In 2012, including a couple of million thrown into the pot by the Koch Brothers, the NRA spent slightly more than $25 million on donations to candidates and political ads. That kind of money buys a lot of traction in Washington but it’s chump-change compared to what Gates could pony up if he decided that gun control was going to help makes his day. And just so you don’t think that putting a hundred or two hundred million out there might strain Bill and Melinda’s cash flow, let’s not forget that their best buddy and Trustee of the Gates Foundation is none other than Warren Buffet, who might just be worth another 60 billion, give or take a billion here or there.
Sometimes it’s difficult to translate large sums of money into something that we can understand, but look at it this way. The combined net worth of Gates, Buffet and Bloomberg, if considered as equivalent to an annual GDP, would make these three guys the fiftieth wealthiest country on Earth, somewhere around Qatar, Portugal or Peru. According to the 2010 financial filing made by the NRA (the latest I could find online), the outfit had revenues of slightly under 230 million which represents roughly 20% of Microsoft’s revenues each week! In 2014 Berkshire-Hathaway looks like it will have weekly revenues of nearly 4 billion and Bloomberg L.P. is also no slouch. We’re not talking here about the nickels and dimes that the NRA carts off to the bank. When it comes to putting up dough for whatever Gates, Buffet and Bloomberg want to promote, those guys are the bank.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in favor of buying elections or using deep pockets to influence electoral outcomes either from the Left or the Right. But the NRA’s biggest problem is they really can’t reach out to anyone who doesn’t own a gun. Meanwhile, the gun control folks have suffered over the years from the waxing and waning of public concern about guns that usually only spikes upward when a horrifying or high-visibility shooting takes place. Guess what? The kind of money represented by Gates, Buffet and Bloomberg can go a long way towards funding ongoing, grass-roots activities that the NRA would find it difficult, if not impossible to match. In the last month, Bloomberg’s group Everytown forced Target to declare itself a gun-free zone, and now they are trying to add Kroger to the gun-free list as well. Notice any big retailers inviting open-carry activists into their stores?