Gun control 'dream team' is born: Can it rival NRA for political firepower?
Michael Bloomberg and Gabrielle Giffords may help to put a new face on the gun-control movement – and try to give the NRA a run for its money when it comes to influencing gun policy. But the movement has a fractious history to overcome.
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The emergence of Mr. Bloomberg, a former Republican, as well as Giffords, a centrist Democrat who owns weapons for self-protection, and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, not only gives gun-control advocates recognizable and heroic faces, but it also is beginning to coalesce a largely fractious movement that has had only a lean grass-roots constituency.
"One of the things that the gun-control movement has always faced is an abundance of underfunded groups that don't work together well," says Kristin Goss, a political scientist at Duke University and author of "Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America." That, she says, may now be changing.
Bloomberg and Giffords also help to change the image of the gun-control movement from one of "gun grabbers" to one of centrist Americans simply looking for common-sense change, perhaps in the form of an assault weapons ban, bans on large ammunition clips, or the creation of a national gun registry.
Giffords not only has cachet as a Second Amendment-supporting gun victim, but she and Mr. Kelly hope to raise as much as $20 million to help fund political candidates willing to support some gun-control measures in congressional districts where the NRA has been prominent. The effort also appears aimed at helping to sustain momentum for proposals already in Congress and those that will emerge next Tuesday from Mr. Biden's working group on gun violence.
"I can't imagine a better team," writes novelist Douglas Anthony Cooper in a Huffington Post op-ed Wednesday titled "Now We Know Who's Going to Take Down the NRA." Bloomberg alone has "singlehandedly demonstrated that the NRA can indeed be conquered in the manner proposed: by doing precisely what [NRA chief lobbyist Wayne] LaPierre's militia does, with comparable funding, and – here's the crucial difference – principles."
The NRA isn't going quietly into the night, of course. Two reasons it remains a powerful lobby: a $300 million annual budget and a huge, active grass-roots constituency capable of influencing local, state, and national political races. Indeed, 100,000 people have joined the NRA in the past 18 days, the group reports. And while polls show an uptick in public backing for more gun restrictions in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, support also remains strong for gun rights enshrined in the Second Amendment and recently affirmed by the US Supreme Court.
Gun-control advocates have in recent years acknowledged that the NRA has largely prevailed in the cultural debate over guns, exemplified by a big increase in the number of concealed-weapons carriers and the proliferation of self-defense "Stand Your Ground" laws (though the latter have become more controversial since the shooting last year of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.).