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Michael Bloomberg as counterweight to NRA: What are his chances?

Billionaire and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg taps his money, and political zeal, to counter the political clout of the NRA. The gun rights group sees 'billions of reasons to take him seriously.'

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Independence USA's seemingly scattershot support for candidates across the geographical and political map is "all issue-based," says Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for the super PAC. "We are looking at candidates and where they stand on issues," he says.

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When Independence USA supports a candidate, it usually outspends the opposition by as much as 30 to 1, leading some to accuse the mayor of buying elections. Mr. Friedman dismisses that argument as "specious."

The mayor has also been on a media circuit, promoting gun control through appearances with TV personalities including NBC's David Gregory, the women of ABC's "The View," and even Fox's Bill O'Reilly.

On Monday, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a gun control group cofounded by Bloomberg, launched a $12 million ad campaign urging US senators in key states to support federal legislation requiring background checks for all gun purchases. The ads, scheduled to run during the Easter/Passover weekend, target 15 "persuadable" senators in 13 states: Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Susan Collins of Maine, and Rob Portman of Ohio, as well as Democrats Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina. According to The New York Times, Bloomberg is financing the campaign himself.

On March 21, he met with Vice President Joe Biden, who's led a task force on curbing gun violence, as well as families from Newtown, Conn., to discuss federal gun laws. Bloomberg has also held a closed-door meeting with former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, herself the survivor of an assassination attempt, who has called for stricter gun laws following the Newtown shooting and has publicly chided the president for not taking leadership on gun control.

Conspicuous in many of these appearances and meetings is disdain for the NRA, which the mayor has said is engaged in "a shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country."

Mr. Arulanandam says Bloomberg is going after law-abiding gun owners rather than targeting gun violence.

"The NRA is interested in doing substantive things to make sure that we reduce the problem of violence in this country," he says. "The mayor has dedicated his bank account to eradicating a constitutional right. We have determined to make sure that he fails."

The NRA does not support universal background checks or an assault weapons ban but does support restricting firearm access to "criminals and the mentally ill with violent tendencies," Arulanandam says.

"Gun bans and other bans, we don't think it's a proper or constructive way of addressing the problem of violence in our society," he says.

Mr. Feinblatt counters that it was gun violence that spurred Bloomberg to push for more gun control in the first place.

"Eighty-five percent of guns recovered from crime scenes in New York come from out of state," he says. "We have an obligation to point out that this is a national problem; it requires a national solution."

Though both sides are on a spending spree to push their respective agendas, the sums remain asymmetrical.

The NRA had a budget of $307 million in 2010. In 2011 – before Bloomberg entered the fray – "the combined budgets of all the groups trying to prevent gun violence came to around $16 million," The New York Times reported.

In last November's elections, Bloomberg's super PAC donated roughly $9.6 million to seven candidates in state races, according to Friedman. The NRA, by contrast, spent more than $25 million in the 2012 elections, most of which went to attack Mr. Obama and support GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

To overcome the NRA, Independence USA and other gun-control groups will have to form a more well-organized, well-funded coalition, gun-debate watchers say.

"The NRA's power has been affected permanently," says John McGlennon, a political scientist at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. "But the real key will be whether there emerges any kind of organized, permanent apparatus to carry on [Bloomberg's] campaign."

Of course, those who know the mayor, and his propensity to gravitate toward seemingly unconquerable challenges, expect him to keep up the fight long after he leaves office at the end of 2013.

"Mayor Bloomberg has had issues he's been very strong on throughout his mayoralty that he's made clear he'll continue to advocate on behalf of post-mayoralty," Friedman says. "Gun safety is one of them."


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