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A New Bloomberg-Backed Group Is Gunning for the NRA

The new organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, includes a lobbying arm as well as a political action committee.

by Mary Emily O'Hara
Apr 16 2014, 11:05pm

Photo by Ron Guillen

“The NRA should be very afraid.”

That’s what Shannon Watts, a public-relations maven turned stay-at-home mother of five, said this afternoon on a conference call with reporters. Her warning followed the announcement of a new lobbying entity that merged her Moms Demand Action advocacy group with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the coalition co-founded by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The new umbrella organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, will include a lobbying arm as well as a political action committee. Bloomberg plans to spend around $50 million this year to fund the new group.

Everytown launched on Wednesday. It will focus on lobbying governments in 15 states to support an eventual push for federal gun-control legislation.

Watts compared the fight for gun control to the one for same-sex marriage.

“Much like the fight for marriage equality, we are taking this to the states and we think Congress will fall in line,” she said.

People in Colorado are now shooting themselves faster than they can die in car crashes. Read more here.

Bloomberg’s chief policy advisor John Feinblatt told reporters on the call today that the new coalition has 34,000 donors scattered across the country, and an advisory board that includes philanthropic heavyweights like Warren Buffett.

The National Rifle Association had revenue amounting to over $256 million in 2012, so Everytown needs all the billionaire backing it can get. After all, you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.

But even with millions of dollars funding a campaign for gun-control legislation, will such measures actually work to lessen the number of shootings?

The NYPD’s latest statistics show that gun violence is on the rise in New York City, where legal restrictions make it virtually impossible to purchase or receive a permit to carry a gun of any caliber. And even though stop-and-frisk has slowed its number of stops, the percentage of them that resulted in gun confiscations went up.

But Arkadi Gerney, a senior fellow at the progressive think tank Center for American Progress, says such statistics are misleading because they leave out the bigger picture.

“I’m not surprised that there’s been an uptick in murder rates in New York City, because last year there was the lowest number since they began taking records in the 1960s,” Gerney told VICE News. “The levels have been dropping for decades. New York is an example of a city that has strong gun laws and strong enforcement.”

Gerney, who also serves on the board of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and worked in Bloomberg’s office during his mayoral tenure, pointed to a 2013 Center for American Progress report that showed a direct connection between gun control and lowered violence.

Image via the Center for American Progress

“We found that the ten states with the strongest gun laws had half the violence as the states with the weakest laws,” he said. “So laws do make a difference.”

VICE News asked Watts what Everytown has in store other than potentially futile criminalization efforts. She cited her group’s track record of convincing corporations like Starbucks, Facebook, and Instagram to ban guns from their sites and shops.

“We go to companies and say, ‘Moms make the spending decisions in this country,’ ” she said. “This is a marathon, not a sprint. If we look at both state laws and corporate policies, we will absolutely address gun violence.”

But evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of legislation on curtailing gun violence is murky. The NRA is quick to point out that while gun ownership is at an all-time high, accidents involving guns have steadily declined.

According to the NRA’s 2013 fact sheet on firearm safety, “Since 1930, the annual number of firearm accident deaths has decreased 81%, while the US population has more than doubled and the number of firearms has quintupled.”

What those numbers don’t address are a slew of other gun-related problems, such as mass shootings, domestic violence deaths, and the enormous amount of illegal weapons that the ownership data doesn’t reflect.

Gun-rights groups often compare Chicago and Houston, two cities of similar size that have nearly opposite gun laws. Chicago, the more restrictive city, has consistently higher rates of gun violence than Houston, where it’s legal to walk around with a shotgun slung over one shoulder. But those comparisons usually neglect the complexities of cultural differences and the effects of poverty, as well as the fact that most of Chicago’s guns are imported from places like Mississippi.

“This violence is not just an urban problem, it’s not just a mass shooting problem,” Feinblatt told reporters on Wednesday. “It can, and it does, take place in every town in the country.”

Feinblatt said that Everytown is simply trying to counter the NRA’s lobbying strength in Washington, DC, and in the states.

“The truth is, the gun lobby has had this territory to themselves and we aim to change that,” he said.

Follow Mary Emily O’Hara on Twitter: @maryemilyohara

Image via Flickr