Don't Bother Sending Ricin Letters. Gun Rights Advocates Are Already Winning.

The Atlantic
Don't Bother Sending Ricin Letters. Gun Rights Advocates Are Already Winning.
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Don't Bother Sending Ricin Letters. Gun Rights Advocates Are Already Winning.

Michael Bloomberg is not the first elected official to be threatened for his advocacy of increased legislation on gun ownership. Nor were the ricin-tainted letters targeting him and the gun control organization he founded the first threats he has received. The threat reported late Wednesday afternoon is the most high profile — and probably least representative — example of the furious, successful national pushback against new gun legislation, spearheaded by the National Rifle Association and making its way through the laboratories of democracy even as Washington prepares for a new vote.

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The mayor has been a target of the NRA for months, since even before his group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, began targeting senators with ads pushing for increased background checks on gun sales. Earlier this month, USA Today suggested that Bloomberg was the NRA's "Public Enemy No. 2," second in line behind the president. Bloomberg's something of an ideal target: a (relatively) liberal East Coast politician who's been unrepentant in advocating for top-down solutions to problems. (Or, if you prefer, an advocate for the "nanny state.") Wednesday's was by no means the first physical threat to the mayor; on Tuesday, a New York man pled guilty to threatening him and other officials. In the face of the threat posed by the letters, Bloomberg was unchastened. "There’s 12,000 people that are going to get killed this year with guns and 19,000 that are going to commit suicide with guns," The Times reported Bloomberg saying yesterday, "and we're not going to walk away from those efforts."

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What's worth noting is that, so far, the NRA has beaten Bloomberg. The Senate's proposed gun reforms were put on ice after a Republican filibuster halted a key compromise. Bloomberg's group keeps pressuring senators, but the NRA won round one in a unanimous decision.

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Where the NRA hasn't won, in states where there has been gun legislation that's passed, the NRA is pursuing a two-part strategy: targeting lawmakers and targeting the laws. Most states that have passed new gun legislation, it's worth remembering, have passed laws loosening regulations. The NRA obviously has no interest in overturning those decisions.

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The biggest fight is shaping up in Colorado. In March, the state's governor signed legislation broadly expanding gun restrictions. The signing happened hours after the shooting death of the state's prison director and after months of heated political debate, including physical threats sent to legislators.

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Now that it's law, however, activists have begun an effort to recall legislators that supported the bill. One key participant in the push: the NRA, as reported by CNN.

[F]or the first time in almost two decades, the National Rifle Association is attempting to coordinate the recall of a top state legislator over his role in the passage of new gun restrictions, CNN has learned.

Morse told CNN he knew that local gun groups were going after him, but did not know at the beginning the NRA was involved.

The number of politicians who will actually face a recall vote is contingent upon opponents collecting enough signatures to get the measures on the ballot. In at least one case, activists employed an unusual method to increase the number of signatures they got: offering volunteers for the effort a chance to win prizes like gift cards, an extended magazine, or a pistol. (The groups offering the prizes are not directly affiliated with the NRA.)

Colorado is a swing state. In heavily-Democratic Connecticut, which in April passed its own sweeping set of laws, the NRA is focusing instead on the law. (Connecticut also doesn't have a similar procedure for recalls, not that it would likely matter.) The NRA's Institute for Legislative Action describes a lawsuit filed in the state last week.

This legal challenge focuses on Connecticut’s ban of more than 100 additional commonly-owned firearms, demonizing design features that provide improved safety, accuracy and ease-of-use features, including magazines that hold more than ten rounds of ammunition. This lawsuit also challenges the practical bans imposed by the new law on an even broader array of firearms due to the new law’s vague language and interpretative confusion combined with severe criminal penalties.

In New York, the only other state to have passed sweeping control legislation since the shootings in Newtown, the NRA has employed the same tactic.

And the gun lobby might as well send lawyers to California. The state legislature is considering expansive legislation that includes instituting a background check on ammunition purchases — legislation that has been introduced federally but stands no chance of passage. The California state senate passed the bill yesterday; it now heads to the Assembly.

The push for new gun legislation in the state has not been without incident. In March, a Santa Clara man was arrested after sending death threats to a pro-control legislator; police found 26 firearms in his home.

Again: violent threats are the exception. More commonly, new gun legislation is blocked before it's passed or, once it's passed, it becomes the focus of NRA action. And that, it turns out, is a much more effective strategy for blocking new gun control legislation.

Photo: NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. (AP)

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