Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has invested millions of his own fortune into the push for stricter gun laws. Now he's upping the ante by pledging up to $50 million this year alone to a newly formed gun control organization that hopes to rival the influence of the powerful National Rifle Association.
Bloomberg's group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has joined forces with Moms Demand Action under a new umbrella group, Everytown for Gun Safety. The group's goals are to expand background checks at the state and federal levels and drive one million gun control supporters to the voting booths in November.
"What we are building here is a counter weight to the gun lobby. The truth is that the gun lobby has had this territory to themselves both in Washington and in state houses across the country and our job is to change that," John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said today during a conference call.
"I think the NRA should be very afraid of Americans, who've had enough of the gun violence in this country and in particular moms," Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action and a board member for Everytown for Gun Safety, said. "Moms are afraid our children will be taken away and in the end, I think that's the emotion that will win the debate."
But the new organization, whose board includes billionaire Warren Buffett and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, has a heavy lift ahead as it looks to challenge the NRA, which carries heavy political influence with lawmakers in conservative states.
Asked to comment, NRA spokesman Andreew Arulanandam said, "See you in Indianapolis next week. We will have a lot more to say then" - referring to the organization's annual meeting.
During the gun debate last year, Bloomberg's group and the NRA went head to head over background check legislation.
At the time, Bloomberg even poured $12 million in advertisements into 13 states to convince senators to vote in favor of gun control legislation. Bloomberg's return on investment was not very good. T he Senate ultimately dealt gun control advocates a major blow when it failed to pass legislation expanding requirements for background checks before purchasing a firearm.
Four Democrats voted against the bill, including two senators who are up for re-election this year in conservative states - Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Mark Pryor, D-Ark. It's those red states that could act as a major roadblock for future gun control legislation on the federal level as the NRA wields enormous influence with lawmakers in those states. Case in point: the Senate was recently forced to hold off on voting on President Obama's surgeon general nominee after some red state Democrats were unsure about supporting him due to objections from the NRA.
But a majority of the public is still looking for tougher gun laws. An AP/GFK poll conducted last December found that 52 percent of those polled wanted stricter gun laws. Only 15 percent of those polled wanted less strict laws while 31 percent of those polled thought gun laws should remain the same.
While he was handed defeat in the Senate, Bloomberg isn't just looking at the federal level as a gauge on a return on his investment in the gun control cause. Feinblatt pointed to successes on the state level, including the states that have passed comprehensive background checks.
"We measure this in terms of lives saved and when you have 160 people in Colorado who would have gotten their hands on guns not getting their hands on guns, that has saved lives and you can't put a price tag on that," Feinblatt said.