While most people were enjoying the July 4th weekend festivities, South Chicago residents were trying not to be killed. At least 82 people were shot, 14 of them fatally according to The Chicago Tribune. As with other city leaders, gun violence in his town keeps Mayor Rahm Emanuel up at night.
One former big city mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has promised to do something about it. Having struck out badly trying to ban super-sized sugary soft drinks in New York City, he’s now trying something far more ambitious - taking on the National Rifle Association and beating it at its own game.
The NRA for years has successfully blocked gun control measures by rating lawmakers’ votes on gun rights legislation and then following up with targeted campaign spending to help their allies and defeat their enemies on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures across the country.
The group headed by executive vice president Wayne LaPierre has Congress so buffaloed that even a watered-down bipartisan plan to expand background checks on firearm sales and ban some military-style semi-automatic weapons went down to defeat in the Senate in April 2013. That defeat was preceded by a public outcry for common-sense gun control in the wake of the Newtown, CT massacre of 20 schoolchildren and six adult staff members the previous December.
Now a group recently founded by the billionaire former mayor called “Everytown for Gun Safety” has announce plans to canvass every House and Senate member and congressional candidate for their views on ways to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people while protecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding people. Those results combined with an analysis of past voting records will be used as a guide to targeting massive amounts of campaign spending and grass roots organizing this fall.
“People deserve to know where candidates stand on reasonable gun measures,” John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown and a long-time adviser to Bloomberg, said on Monday in a tweet. He added in an interview with The Washington Post, “For too long, the gun lobbyists had the field to themselves.”
The group’s so-called “2014 Gun Sense Voter Federal Candidate Questionnaire” which was posted online today notes that 86 Americans die by gunfire every day and that “We are working to support candidates who will vote for common sense laws to reduce gun violence.”
The questionnaire is designed to probe politicians’ views on 10 key questions regarding, among other things, background checks for most gun sales, keeping guns out of the hands of convicted stalkers and other convicts, expanding the National Instant Criminal Background Check system, the sale of high-capacity bullet magazines and toughening laws for carrying concealed weapons.
Feinblatt told The Post that his group is focused on trying to influence the outcome of the 2014 mid-term elections, but that it is taking a broader view in trying to influence lawmakers’ thinking and actions for years to come. “You don’t build a counterweight to the gun lobby overnight,” he said.
Bloomberg, the 16th richest person in the world with a net worth of $34.9 billion, according to Forbes, has committed to putting up $50 million of his personal fortune to building a nationwide grass roots network of political organizers to try to influence the national debate on gun control. That would be far more than double the $20 million the NRA spends annually on political activities and campaigns, according to media reports.
Bloomberg said in April in announcing his new group that gun control advocates must learn from the NRA and punish those lawmakers who refuse to support their agenda and policies – including Democrats whose positions otherwise square with Bloomberg’s views, according to The New York Times.
The NRA – one of the most successful and feared organizations in Washington – largely shrugged off Bloomberg’s latest strategy and threat. Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the group, told the Post that it will be difficult for Everytown to counter the NRA’s formidable political network and proven clout. “Money cannot buy the hearts and minds of the American people when it comes to the Second Amendment,” he told The Post.
Another potential problem for Everytown’s campaign strategy is finding ways to effectively put Bloomberg’s money to work.
“Maybe Bloomberg's money, if he spends enough of it, will affect a few very close races,” said University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato in an email to The Fiscal Times on Monday. “We'll see. But his problem is two-fold: First, this is going to be at least a marginally GOP year, maybe more so. So he's spending against the political tide, and a lot of money has been wasted in these kinds of circumstances by many groups on the left and the right in past years.”
“Second, the House has so few truly competitive contests that his money means nothing in heavily Red or Blue districts,” Sabato added. “Just about every interest group is spending big-time in the handful of close races, which dilutes the effect of any one group. The Senate actually has more opportunities for Bloomberg, but even there, we've got at most a dozen competitive elections - and everyone has cash chips on the board in those states.”
Top Reads From the Fiscal Times: