The loudest news this week on the anti-gun front came from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is using his group Everytown for Gun Safety, as well as $50 million of his own money, to try to beat the National Rifle Association at its own game. Sadly, his effort, while well-intentioned, is destined to fail.
The idea is to mirror the NRA practice of giving political candidates a survey to determine their stance on guns and gun legislation. These surveys would then be used to endorse candidates in upcoming elections. Those with strong gun control strategies would receive Bloomberg’s blessing.
This has certainly proved to be a sound strategy for the NRA. Republicans have fallen all over themselves trying to prove their pro-gun bona fides, carrying guns in parades, and shooting them in their campaign ads. Meanwhile, Democrats are reluctant to speak out against guns (and often even support pro-gun legislation) for fear of losing votes. And, Bloomberg’s copycat strategy will do little to change that. Because it is not surveys or even money that wins elections or passes legislation, it is fear. And, the GOP and NRA are masters of spreading fear, even if they are not scared of Bloomberg:
“Money cannot buy the hearts and minds of the American people when it comes to the Second Amendment,” [NRA Spokesman Andrew] Arulanandam said. “Michael Bloomberg is just the latest incarnation of a long line of anti-freedom billionaires who’ve tried to take on the National Rifle Association.”
This is why background check legislation cannot get passed, even with support from 92 percent of the public (including 86 percent of Republicans and 92 percent of gun owners). As long as the NRA can spin “gun control” to mean “gun prohibition” and make “guns” synonymous with “freedom,” they will win. The same poll shows that only 50 percent of people support “gun control,” even though they almost all support background checks. By dictating the definition of the term, the NRA has managed to control the issue. They have created their own language and their own set of facts. And, this is how they have inspired people to hoard guns, form ramshackle militias, or parade around in public with semi-automatic rifles. This is why gun sales continue to grow even as the number of people who own guns decreases. This is why people can rail about a tyrannical government or impending terrorist takeover while not seeing the irony in pictures like this:
The juxtaposition of the gun, Bible, and flag in that picture are telling. They are the trinity of the modern GOP. And, all three are necessary for membership in the club of “true” conservatism. The caption illustrates this. Holly Fisher is a supporter of the owners of Hobby Lobby and their efforts to exempt themselves from providing contraception to their female employees. Yet, her fellow conservatives pointed out that she was missing the three totems of the party, so she quickly obliged by posing with the requisite props. And somehow, these conservatives fail to see the similarities between their own fanaticism and that of the extremist Muslims they love to demonize.
This is why even those conservatives and gun owners who may actually support background checks or other sensible gun legislation can only admit to it in an anonymous poll. At the ballot box, they must prove their dedication to the party ideals. The candidates know this, which is why their stance on guns and God matters far more than their economic or foreign policy.
And this is why Bloomberg’s plan is destined to fail. He cannot shame Democrats into supporting gun legislation the way the NRA shames Republicans into supporting guns. The truth is, it just is not as important to voters on the left. Ana Marie Cox at the Guardian explains it well:
That’s the key misunderstanding between gun-control advocates and the wide swath of voters they need on their side: Americans are OK with guns. They don’t like violence. They don’t like guns in the hands of mad men and criminals, or shoved in their faces in restaurants and shopping centers, but they’re OK with guns.
And, even if we are not OK with guns, it does not matter, because the people we have elected to represent us are certainly OK with guns. Or, at least they are OK with being seen that way, and OK with the money they receive from groups like the NRA to keep gun regulation an impossibility.
Bloomberg thinks that he can help change laws by taking a page out of the NRA’s book. But, he is taking the wrong page. It is not the money that matters. It is the mindset. The NRA, and by extension, the Republican Party, have convinced gun owners that their right to own and carry guns is divine. It comes not just from the Constitution, but from God himself. And, anyone who attempts to limit that divine right in any way is not just wrong, but evil. To stand any chance at all, Bloomberg must make gun regulation matter as much to Democrats and guns do to Republicans.
That is the battle Bloomberg is fighting, and it is not one that can be won with money alone.