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Can A Smarter Gun Safety Movement Beat The NRA?

Michael Bloomberg is pouring $50 million into a revamped strategy for new gun laws. Will it get him into heaven—or at least get better laws on the books?

By Nathan Pippenger

I remember, from my days as a reporter, the rush of excitement that hits when an interviewee says something truly ridiculous on the record. But nobody ever gave me a quote quite like this doozy from Michael Bloomberg: “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”

Bloomberg was joking, of course. (I hope.) But even so, his self-righteousness was telling. As mayor of New York City, Bloomberg could be heavy-handed and moralizing—think of his campaign against “Big Gulp” drinks and, more disturbingly, his defense of stop-and-frisk. But although his self-confidence could sometimes manifest itself as a patronizing “Father Knows Best” attitude, it also led, on occasion, to stirring displays of leadership. He was one of the few politicians to show courage during the awful campaign against the so-called Ground Zero Mosque. And in recent years, he’s turned his attention to gun control.

On that issue, The New York Times reports, he plans to spend as much as $50 million this year alone. Instead of TV ads, Bloomberg’s money will go to on-the-ground operations, organizing voters who are particularly passionate about gun control (especially, as the Times notes, “women, and mothers in particular”). Will this strategy work?

Recent scholarship suggests it could. Duke’s Kristin A. Goss, author of Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America, has pinned gun control’s failure partly on this lack of organizational infrastructure. This helps explain why, despite 90-percent plus support for measures like universal background checks, gun safety advocates are so often stymied in Congress. As Goss notes, members of the NRA and other pro-gun organizations pay dues, read about their subculture in “glossy magazines,” and share “facilities for sportsmen” and “opportunities to socialize.” Gun-control proponents have no comparable social-political infrastructure. Moreover, it’s been decades since major women’s organizations led the push for stronger gun laws—even though such groups backed the earliest efforts at gun control in the 1930s, and women are relatively strong proponents of gun control today.

Goss’s work suggests that Bloomberg is onto something. Whether his work will get him to heaven is one thing. But if it helps get stronger gun laws on the books, that’s pretty impressive in itself.

Nathan Pippenger is a contributing editor at Democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @NathanPip.

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