As thousands of National Rifle Association members head to Houston this weekend for the group’s annual convention, a nonprofit group backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg has the gun lobby in its crosshairs.
Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety was created in 2013 after two groups, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, joined forces. Today, the group is more than 8 million members strong and made up of mayors, teachers, survivors, gun owners, students, and everyday citizens with the common goal of ending gun violence. It is preparing to wage war in a political and legal crusade that could change the trajectory of gun control in the United States.
The group’s efforts were thrust back into the national spotlight following back-to-back shootings at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket on May 14 and this week’s massacre in the tiny Texas town of Uvalde, where a teenage gunman opened fire at an elementary school, killing 19 students and two adults.
“A hate-fueled shooting in Buffalo, a school shooting in Texas, and a Supreme Court on the verge of putting existing gun laws in jeopardy — these are all symptoms of our nation’s profoundly broken approach to guns,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said following Tuesday’s shooting at Robb Elementary School. “This needs to be the moment when our nation draws the line, and when our lawmakers start doing their jobs and pass common-sense laws to keep us safe.”
Everytown is the nation’s highest-profile gun control group and has been working for nearly a decade to disrupt the largely symbolic debate on gun control through a well-funded, rapid-action, and unconventional lobbying campaign.
The group launched nearly a year after the U.S. Senate debated a series of changes to federal gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. On Dec. 14, 2012, a 20-year-old gunman shot and killed 26 people at the Connecticut school, 20 of whom were children between 6 and 7 years old. Despite national outrage, no significant changes on gun control were made in Congress.
To Bloomberg, who had become the de facto kingpin of the gun control movement, something needed to change. During his tenure as mayor of New York City, between 2002 to 2013, the media magnate and onetime presidential hopeful did more to elevate the issue of gun control than any other elected official at that time.
In 2006, he and then-Boston Mayor Thomas Menino founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The coalition counted 15 mayors in its inaugural class but has since grown to a bipartisan group of more than 1,000 current and former mayors representing some of America’s smallest towns as well as its biggest cities and currently has a presence in nearly every state.
As mayor, Bloomberg tasked city executives with helping law enforcement remove illegally obtained firearms in their communities. He also brought up the need for gun control measures every chance he got, knocking elected officials from both parties in the process.
During the 2012 election cycle, he forked over millions of dollars to back candidates who supported gun control measures. He frequently went on television to advocate closing the “gun show loophole” that allowed people to buy firearms without a background check. During an appearance on Meet the Press, he said if he were president, he’d sign an executive order to make sure that the database used for background checks was kept up to date.
In 2013, when Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America combined forces, the new super group had more firepower than ever before and actively worked to change state and federal gun laws. Though they were able to clock a few wins, the group, up until now, has been no match for the NRA.
Though still a power player in U.S. politics, the NRA has faced infighting, falling revenues, and fierce legal challenges in recent years. It has also been on the receiving end of growing criticism for defending access to weapons used in multiple massacres across the country, including the ones at Sandy Hook and Robb Elementary.
Despite this, the gun rights group has remained active in politics, though its spending has been erratic in recent election cycles. In 2016, the NRA spent $54.4 million, $31 million of which was spent to help elect former President Donald Trump. The NRA’s spending dipped in the 2018 midterm elections to $9.6 million but in 2020 bounced back to $29.4 million, most of which was spent backing losing campaigns. The organization spent $16.6 million on Trump as well as $5.9 million supporting two Georgia Republicans, former Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who lost their runoff races to Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
Everytown is hoping to capitalize on the recent wave of criticism toward the NRA to achieve its goals.
According to the nonprofit group’s website, the organization plans to use a four-pronged approach that begins with registering voters, electing candidates “who will govern with gun safety in mind,” demanding action from elected officials, and using fact-based arguments to sway how the public perceives gun violence.
Educating voters includes “researching the causes and solutions” of gun violence, supporting survivors, advancing gun safety in the courts, and building partnerships to raise awareness.
Everytown said it is also committed to electing “gun sense candidates” who will fight for “smart gun policies” and is pushing to build a grassroots movement in every state in the nation.
How much of an impact Everytown will have on changing the nation’s gun laws remains yet to be seen but its momentum, for now, is growing.