Gun Control Advocates Have More Money Now, but Money Can’t Buy Zeal

Gun Control Advocates Have More Money Now, but Money Can’t Buy Zeal

After the massacre of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, the gun-control movement was small and badly outspent by the National Rifle Association. Parents seeking an outlet for their grief and rage congregated on Facebook, where they formed their own group, Moms Demand Action, to push for stricter gun laws.

By far the most significant and best-known donor in the years since has been Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire and former New York City mayor. In 2013, his mayors’ initiative merged with Moms Demand Action to create Everytown for Gun Safety, the closest thing that the gun-control movement has to a counterweight to the N.R.A. That year the group spent $36.5 million, compared with $4.7 million the year before.

More groups sprang up, including Giffords, started in 2013 by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was nearly killed in a mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that claimed the lives of six people, and the March for Our Lives, founded by survivors of the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

As recent progress on a bipartisan gun safety deal on Capitol Hill illustrates, the nascent movement has coalesced into something more formidable. It went from being considered a guaranteed-to-lose issue for Democrats to something candidates organize around, especially on the state level. But because gun control was viewed as particularly divisive, many major philanthropists and big foundations have been reluctant to dive into an issue long seen as not just polarized but intractable.

Yet as gun sales and gun deaths have risen in tandem, and the number of mass shootings continues to increase, including the attacks last month in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, big donors have begun to move off the sidelines.

“Since Buffalo I have spoken to a dozen large funders who are quickly scrambling to figure out where they can play a role in the current gun violence crisis,” said David Brotherton, vice chair of the Fund for a Safer Future, the largest national donor collaborative working on gun-violence prevention, and a program officer at the Atlanta philanthropy the Kendeda Fund. “This is snowballing right now.”

In addition to moments of crisis, people were trying to make progress where the potential political heat was lower. More and more funders have tried tackling gun violence through the less politically divisive lens of public health, through community intervention and as a matter of racial equity. Big-name philanthropists including Steve and Connie Ballmer of the Ballmer Group and John and Laura Arnold of Arnold Ventures have begun to make tens of millions of dollars in grants on different aspects of gun-violence prevention.

The gun-control movement is better funded than it was a decade ago, but it still is not outspending the N.R.A. Even with recent legal challenges and boardroom battles, the N.R.A. remains a powerful organization with years of success in blocking legislative efforts to restrict gun sales.

It remains to be seen how the bipartisan deal for a narrow set of gun safety measures, an agreement reached by 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats and endorsed by President Biden, will move through the evenly divided Senate.

Money is also only part of the equation. More donors will help the gun-control movement spend on lobbying, research and organizing, and on donations to political candidates who support the cause. But matching the intensity and discipline of gun-rights supporters’ political activism isn’t just about who spends more.

Gun rights are an especially galvanizing issue for many Republican voters, particularly in primaries, and Republicans have been far more likely to use messaging about guns to excite their base than Democrats have for the bulk of this year, though some are increasingly working gun safety into their pitches now.

“It is a much heavier lift than everybody thinks because in attacking this gun thing, you’re taking on the entire identity and ethos of the G.O.P.,” said Ryan Busse, a former executive at the gun company Kimber who is now an industry critic.

Richard Feldman, a former N.R.A. regional political director, said that the gun-control movement might be better organized and funded than in the past but that the politics of the issue still largely favored gun rights.

“Everyone has an opinion about guns, but, come November, it’s the determining issue for gun owners,” Mr. Feldman said.

It is that strength of feeling that helped keep donors away. Liz Dunning, vice president of development at the gun-control group Brady, worked in education nonprofits and philanthropy before switching to gun control. “I know what it looks like when the really big philanthropic players engage, and it looks different from this,” […]

source Gun Control Advocates Have More Money Now, but Money Can’t Buy Zeal

Leave a Reply