Gunning for a Fight?

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced plans to spend $50 million this year to fight gun violence. Bloomberg will bring together the gun control groups that he already funds – Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America – to form a new organization called Everytown for Gun Safety. The organization’s advisory board includes some big names from both sides of the political aisle: Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania and Homeland Security Secretary under George W. Bush; Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs under both Presidents Bush and Obama; Warren Buffet, the investor; and philanthropist Eli Broad.

Borrowing a page from the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.), Bloomberg said that gun control advocates need to punish politicians who don’t support their agenda. The N.R.A. has used this tactic successfully for decades and if this year is like recent years, the association will spend about $20 million on political activities. While Bloomberg plans to spend double-that-and-then-some, he faces an uphill battle: N.R.A. members are intense, motivated, and organized.

Bloomberg intends to spend most of his time and money on field operations, rather than on advertising. This approach represents a departure from the way that gun control groups have traditionally promoted their message. And rather than focus on federal restrictions (on which he’s already spent millions and has nothing to show), Bloomberg is concentrating on expanding background checks at the state level. The idea is to drive single-issue voters to the polls in November and beyond.

Meanwhile, congressional candidates passionate about the right to bear arms are taking their gun-toting messages to the airwaves. Will Brooke, a Republican candidate from Alabama, recently aired an ad featuring himself using a pistol, rifle, and an AR-15 to shoot up a copy of the Affordable Care Act. And Republican Matt Rosendale, who is running for Montana’s seat in the U.S. House, is running an ad in which he appears to be in the cross hairs of a drone. “This is how I’d look from a government drone,” he says, “and this is what I think about it.” He then takes aim at the drone with his rifle and fires. Ironically, Rosendale has been endorsed by the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s “Young Guns” program, which helps viable GOP candidates get elected.

Not to be outdone, Bob Quast, an Independent candidate from Iowa, recently posted a web video in which he promises to defend every inch of the U.S. Constitution if elected to the U.S. Senate. His passion for the Second Amendment is made clear via the Glock pistol he wields throughout the video. At one point, he even warns predators, “Harm my family, and I’ll blow your balls off.”

Pledging to support the Second Amendment is one thing, but actually giving guns to supporters is quite another. What better way for a candidate to support the rights of gun owners than to raffle off a gun? Greg Brophy, a Republican candidate for governor in Colorado, gave one lucky supporter a Smith & Wesson M&P15 rifle. The supporter entered an online contest in which he provided his name and other personal information in exchange for the chance to win a rifle. Indeed, online gun sweepstakes have provided a number of Republican candidates with a way to build up their donor lists and grassroots support networks. Lee Bright, a Republican challenger to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, has already given away two guns, and Joe Carr, a Republican challenging Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, gave away a certificate for a firearm. Forty-five thousand people entered Carr’s online raffle.

Clearly, passions run high on all sides of the gun debate. With primary season upon us, and the November general elections right around the corner, expect to hear and see the results of the millions of dollars that will be spent to define candidacies and shape the policy debate. In most Republican primaries, this issue is not likely to decide the race. But if Bloomberg has his way, guns will feature prominently in about 15 states this fall, including some with very competitive Senate races.

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Marian Currinder is Senior Fellow and Curriculum Chair at the Government Affairs Institute

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