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Truth, lies and guerilla politics over gun control v. ‘gun safety’

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg's $50 million "grass roots" gun control effort quickly lost credibility.
Billionaire Michael Bloomberg's $50 million "grass roots" gun control effort quickly lost credibility.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Following yesterday’s launch by Michael Bloomberg of his $50 million “Everytown for Gun Safety” political machine, an enterprising team of gun rights activists struck preemptively by registering that name on Facebook, and today the Seattle’s Joel Connelly put the dueling initiatives battle in Washington State in its proper perspective, hinting that some of Bloomberg's money may help fuel that fight.

In this morning’s on-line column, Connelly observed, “Washington is likely a major national testing ground for Bloomberg’s group. The state faces a political gun battle in the November election.”

That battle will see Initiatives 591 and 594 square off for voter approval, and if both pass, an interesting constitutional question will come up. Which measure will prevail? So far, nobody has an answer, though this week's Elway poll has both gaining voter approval.

I-591 is a simple one-page measure that prohibits government gun confiscation without due process, and requires that background checks in Washington comply with a uniform national standard. I-594 is an 18-page gun control measure ostensibly being promoted as a so-called “universal background check” mandate, but critics say it goes farther, setting the stage for gun registration and criminalizing the common practice of loaning guns to friends for their own hunting and competition endeavors without bureaucratic red tape.

Perhaps unintentionally, Connelly identified a major credibility gap that I-594 backers can never overcome. At least three times in his piece, Connelly refers to I-594 proponents as the “gun safety movement.” This is a “gun control” effort, mounted by the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility (WAGR), an organization that even Connelly acknowledged in a Wednesday chat with this column is – in his words – “Seattle-centric.”

Connelly candidly observed during a telephone conversation with this column that WAGR might not be able to push a convincing “grass roots” image that Bloomberg’s big bucks effort apparently wants to create for the gun prohibition lobby. He suggested that, at least for now, I-594’s roots are pretty much confined to lawns around a few churches and homes in Seattle.

The I-594 political campaign has attracted several Seattle-area faith leaders. One wonders how they might react to this story out of West Virginia, where a church opened its doors to a concealed carry class; a course that includes a healthy dose of safety instruction.

“Gun safety” has nothing to do with I-594 or the broader Bloomberg lobbying effort, and that might best be illustrated by a blog posted yesterday by Steve Sanetti, president of the National Sport Shooting Foundation (NSSF), the organization based in Newtown, Conn., located not far from Sandy Hook Elementary, scene of the December 2012 tragedy that ignited the current gun prohibition movement.

Referring to Bloomberg’s “Everytown for Gun Safety” effort, Sanetti wrote that “The new group’s unstated mission might well be ‘Everytown Without Guns’.” He followed that up with a description of what “real gun safety looks like.”

That description included 70 million gun locks provided with new firearms over the past 15 years, 36 million free firearm safety kits with free gun lock distribution through NSSF’s “Project ChildSafe” conducted in partnership with 15,000 police agencies, and the fulfillment of 3.6 million requests for firearm safety materials. In addition to those efforts detailed by Sanetti, the National Rifle Association’s gun safety efforts put thousands of volunteer firearms instructors in communities across the map, teaching millions of Americans about firearm safety in the home, on the street and in the field.

Gun rights activists call themselves the “real gun safety proponents,” while suggesting that “safety” as defined by gun control supporters amounts to discouraging gun ownership through fear mongering, social bigotry and outright lies. What Connelly described as a “gun safety movement” has no credibility on that subject; no firearms instructors, no gun safety course outlines, no materials about muzzle control, sight alignment or firearms maintenance.

The fight between Washington’s two initiatives is not the only battle looming. Almost immediately after Bloomberg announced his new gun control effort, some enterprising folks moved swiftly to launch a pro-gun Facebook page under the heading “Everytown for Gun Safety.” It has generated a groundswell of support from gun owners, and according to BuzzFeed, a spokesman for Bloomberg’s group predicted the Facebook page will vanish shortly.

Mark Glaze, executive director of “Everytown for Gun Safety” told BuzzFeed, “Maybe they’d like to duel for it.” He also mentioned a “bidding war,” alluding to Bloomberg’s very deep pockets.

If Bloomberg wanted to create the façade of a grass roots gun control effort, launching it with a pledge of $50 million – essentially pocket change for the billionaire former New York mayor – was probably the wrong way to do it. That kind of money is what one sees from a well-oiled political machine, run by a man now under fire for suggesting his anti-gun philanthropy has “earned” him a free pass into Heaven.


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