One of the riddles of American democracy is why the will of the people cannot translate into law when it comes to regulating guns.
Polls show a majority supports tighter background checks on gun purchases and limits on semi-automatic assault weapons and high-volume ammunition clips and magazines. And yet, even after the carnage in Newtown, two rampages at Fort Hood where both shooters bought guns at a store named Guns Galore and the daily toll of handgun deaths from homicides, accidents and suicides, Congress cannot be moved to strengthen gun laws in the slightest.
The contrast is puzzling, but the cause is not. The will of the American people is being thwarted by the National Rifle Association. Its lobbyists, campaign contributions and advertising so intimidate politicians that surveys showing support for tougher gun laws are the only polls they ignore.
But that may be about to change, thanks to the resolve and the wealth of Michael Bloomberg. The billionaire former New York mayor is investing $50 million in an effort to fight the NRA with its own tactics. He has created a new umbrella group, Everytown for Gun Safety, that will combine two other gun control groups he funds, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Everytown is attempting to build a grassroots base across the nation. About three dozen people turned out in Chapel Hill last week to support Bloombergs new effort. Among them was Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who has taken an active role in Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Weve made progress because the hearts and minds of Americans are with us, Kleinschmidt said. Now its just about leveling that playing field with the NRA.
Kleinschmidt said Everytowns message will be that guns are an issue in even relatively low-crime areas such as Chapel Hill. In recent years, he said, Chapel Hill has seen highly publicized gun-related cases in the murder of UNC student body president Eve Carson, a teacher held hostage by a student and a domestic violence killing outside an elementary school.
Its not just something that happens in big cities. Its every town, including Chapel Hill, he said.
In addition to local organizing, Everytown will support its cause through ads promoting gun safety. This week, websites, including The News & Observers, carried a chilling video ad of a child who discovers a loaded gun in her home.
One complication of Bloombergs effort is that the stronger the push for new gun laws, the stronger the paranoia among some gun owners that the government is about to take their guns away. Bloomberg hopes to disarm them not of their guns but of that notion.
Nobodys going to take anyones gun away, he said in a TV interview last week. This is about making sure that a handful of people who we all agree shouldnt have guns dont get their hands on them.
Such reassurances are unlikely to be accepted by hard-core gun rights supporters. They see any regulation as the start of an incremental confiscation. Their resistance needs to be met with equal focus and resolve by voters on the other side. Bloomberg thinks he can build that base by appealing to mothers who have strong feelings about the hazards posed by a nation awash in firearms.
Politically, Everytown supporters will follow the NRAs successful tactic and hold candidates to a one-issue standard. If they dont support doing more to halt gun violence, they wont get the groups support, no matter how much agreement there is on other issues.