Can Michael Bloomberg Make a Difference On Guns?

Sep 20, 2013 6:00am
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Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., speaks during a news conference held by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Sept. 19, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the gun control group co-founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, brought their “No More Names” tour back to Washington on Thursday, a week after the group lost a significant fight over gun control at the state level.

Joined by survivors, victims and family member left behind by gun violence, the rally was a show of strength, powered largely by the emotional appeal of survivors.

“I don’t want your sympathy, I don’t want your condolences, I don’t want your hugs and your pats — I want your courage,” said Jennifer Longdon, who was paralyzed by a shooting that nearly took her and her husband’s lives. “I want action. We’re going to come back and come back and come back until we get it.”

Just last week, pro-gun activists successfully recalled two Colorado state legislators who supported new measures in the state that tightened background checks and limited high-capacity magazines.

In the ongoing battle between the National Rifle Association and its affiliated groups vs. Bloomberg’s group and its Democratic supporters, the recall may be one scrimmage that gun control advocates lost. But those advocates say that the measures are still on the books, which is a bigger victory.

And this week, victims of the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Aurora, Colo., theater, Virginia Tech and others have pushed for Congress to follow the lead of Colorado and other states. The trouble is, there is still plenty of resistance.

Democratic lawmakers in the Senate, who failed to get enough support for a background check bill in April, say they still don’t have enough votes to push legislation through again.

Yet MAIG is marking “progress” in the fact that for the first time in decades, the NRA and their supporters are on the defense.

“For years the NRA had the territory for themselves and Democrats and Republicans had both walked away from it,” said John Feinblatt, chief adviser to Bloomberg for policy and strategic planning.  ”There’s no doubt they’ve had the field to themselves and that’s changed.”

Thanks in part to Bloomberg’s funding and the clout of the nation’s most prominent mayor, the group has surged to the forefront of the gun control debate at a time when there seem to be a never-ending stream of massacres in the headlines.

Half of the 12 deadliest shootings in the U.S. have occurred in the years since Mayors Against Illegal Guns was founded in 2006.

Back then, Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino brought together 15 mayors from across the country for a summit on illegal guns. Today, the group boasts the backing of more than 1,000 mayors and 1.5 million supporters.

Paul Helmke, former president and CEO of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which for decades was the premier lobbying group on gun control, said that Bloomberg’s engagement and leadership on guns has been incredibly helpful to the cause — in part by helping level the playing field with the NRA financially.

“Anybody’s money is important. It doesn’t matter if it’s Mike Bloomberg’s or anybody else’s,” Helmke said. “The challenge for the gun control movement is that it’s always been underfunded, particularly compared to the NRA.”

“Our main supporters are victims and victims’ families,” he added.

The result has been a landscape in which Bloomberg’s group and another well-funded group founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords — who was shot in the head in 2011 — are taking on some of the tasks the Brady Campaign had championed largely alone for decades.

“Brady used to be about the only one doing these things,” Helmke said. “Now that we have the mayors’ and Giffords’ groups doing them, the Brady group is taking a step back.”

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