On Wednesday, the New York Times published an article outlining Michael Bloomberg's latest attempt to buy your rights. This time, Bloomberg is dumping $50 million into the gun control cause and consolidating his anti-gun groups Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) and Moms Demand Action under a single organization, Everytown for Gun Safety. According to the article, Bloomberg's goal with the new money and group is to "outmuscle the National Rifle Association."
Right out of the gate, the Times piece mischaracterizes Bloomberg's latest endeavor. The article's first sentence states that he "plans to spend $50 million this year building a nationwide grassroots network to motivate voters who feel strongly about curbing gun violence…."
A network created by one person that requires $50 million from that single individual to bring together and motivate its members is by definition not a grassroots organization. You don't have to take our word for it. As recently as February, a prominent Times columnist used the term "AstroTurf" to describe what he considered a political organization created by wealthy benefactors that pretends to embody popular sentiment. The columnist reacts with disdain to "paid actors" portraying "ordinary … residents" in "emblematic" scenes in television ads. Not coincidentally, the launch of Bloomberg's new group (ostensibly aimed at "illegal" guns) includes a slickly-produced ad in which a young girl shoots her brother with a handgun she finds in her parents' closet. The ad doesn't suggest the handgun is illegal, rather that the risks it poses to children are intolerable and unmanageable.
Indeed, like MAIG before it, Everytown for Gun Safety misrepresents its goals with its name. Actual gun safety, as in the safe handling of firearms, is one of the primary goals of the NRA, and is furthered by the work of NRA certified instructors throughout the country and NRA's Education and Training Division. The name Everytown for Gun Safety is part of an ongoing effort by the anti-gun community to move away from terms like "gun control" and into language they believe is more publicly acceptable.
Yet the public has become increasingly aware that Bloomberg and his front organizations are just as against legally owned firearms as those owned illegally. Many mayors, for example, are increasingly viewing MAIG as a political liability. The Mayor of Danbury, Conn., recently cut ties with the organization, stating in a press release, "I joined … because I believe enforcement of existing gun laws is preferable to creating new gun laws. It is clear in recent months however that Bloomberg's mission has changed from law enforcement to simply increasing gun regulations." In February, Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Mayor John C. Tkazyik left the group, telling the Poughkeepsie Journal that "MAIG became a vehicle for Bloomberg to promote his personal gun-control agenda -- violating the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens and taking resources away from initiatives that could actually work to protect our neighborhoods and save precious lives." Tkazyik also noted that "I'm not alone: Nearly 50 pro-Second Amendment mayors have left the organization."
The credibility of Bloomberg's Mothers Demand Action group hasn't fared much better. In March, the Washington Times revealed that the group falsely took credit for the removal of a gun parts manufacturer's billboard in Chicago. In truth, the contract to display the billboard had simply run its course.
Others, however, are acutely aware of the stigma Bloomberg brings to the gun control cause. In a C-Span interview following the failed vote on background check legislation, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont stated, "Unfortunately, you have some on the left like the mayor of New York City, who actually didn't help a bit with his ads. He actually turned off some people that we might have gotten for supporters." Similarly, following a battle over gun control in Colorado, Governor John Hickenlooper told USA Today, "Colorado is a state that people like to be themselves and solve their own problems... They don't really like outside organizations meddling in their affairs … ." Even the New York Times admitted that Bloomberg "seemed unwilling to acknowledge, the ways in which his own persona – of a billionaire, Big Gulp-banning former mayor of New York -- could undercut his efforts … ."
Bloomberg himself, however, remains resolutely oblivious to his reputation in many portions of the country. Speaking of himself in the second person, he told the Times, "'You're a rock star. People yelling out of cabs, 'Hey, way to go.''" If Bloomberg ventured into parts of America where cabs are not an ordinary means of transportation, he'd undoubtedly get a different reaction. In perhaps the most telling example of just how far out of touch he is with the hearts and minds he hopes to win to his cause, Bloomberg even told the Times that he believes his work trying to legislate his view of what's good for everybody else puts him on par with the Almighty himself. Said the billionaire ex-mayor, "I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I'm not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It's not even close."
Yet despite the lack of any real grassroots support, Bloomberg's Everytown group could well pose a serious challenge to the rights of gun owners, if for no other reason than the massive sums of money he plans to pump through it. How far he will ultimately be willing to go to avenge past defeats and vindicate his own point of view is anyone's guess. The billionaire nonchalantly told the Times, "I put $50 million into coal, $53 million into the oceans… . Certainly a number like that, $50 million. Let's see what happens." Should he wish, of course, Bloomberg has the means to invest exponentially greater sums. According to the New York Times, Bloomberg as of 2012 had spent over $600 million against his pet peeve of tobacco, including to create bad publicity and to promote higher taxes and public bans.
Fortunately for gun owners, money alone can't buy our rights. NRA's power doesn't manifest itself through dollars, but through the activism, voices, and votes of gun owners already motivated to protect their freedom. As writer Amy Showalter points out in an astute piece for Forbes, it is NRA's "superior grassroots volunteer quality" that has an enormous effect. That was illustrated last year in Colorado, when a grassroots campaign of concerned gun owners recalled two state senators who had supported a raft of gun control legislation, outmaneuvering a well-heeled gun control effort that out-funded them almost six to one.
Bloomberg's billions and his new AstroTurf group are a genuine threat to gun rights, but this threat can be defeated through the continued efforts of NRA members and our proven grassroots network of gun owners. New York City's imperial ex-mayor has just given us 50 million reasons to redouble our own pro-freedom efforts and to prove our liberty isn't for sale.