Mike Bloomberg's gun control group to spend $8m in Texas elections

Lois Beckett
Photograph: George Frey/Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg’s gun control group is planning to spend at least $8m in Texas to elect state and federal politicians who support what it calls “gun sense” laws, including requiring background checks before all gun sales.

Last year, Everytown for Gun Safety poured at least $2.5m into state races in Virginia, backing candidates who supported tougher gun laws and helping to elect a Democratic state house majority for the first time in 26 years.

Now, it is pledging to use the same tactics in Texas, one of the most gun-friendly states in the nation.

Overall, Everytown, the nation’s largest gun control group, has pledged to spend at least $60m on 2020 races across the country, as Bloomberg, the group’s founder and major donor, pours hundreds of millions of dollars into his own presidential campaign.

Related: Bloomberg roundly attacked by rivals in fiercest Democratic debate so far

Even in the wake of multiple mass shootings, Texas’s Republican-controlled state government has continued to pass pro-gun laws. The day after a mass shooting in Odessa last fall left seven people dead, multiple recently passed Texas gun laws went into effect – all of them loosening existing restrictions on guns. In 2016, state lawmakers approved a “campus carry” bill that allows licensed gun owners over age 21 to carry concealed handguns in public university classrooms, as well as in dormitories and elsewhere across campus.

Four of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern US history, going back to 1966, happened in Texas, including a domestic violence-linked shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs in 2017, and a white nationalist attack targeting Mexican American families at a Walmart in El Paso last summer.

Gun rights supporters in Texas are already preparing for a political battle.

“The Texas State Rifle Association will continue fighting to ensure that Bloomberg doesn’t buy Texas the way he’s trying to buy the Democratic nomination for president,” said Mike Cox, the lobbyist and legislative director for the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Cox said he is also keeping a wary eye on Virginia, where the state’s new Democratic majority has made passing stricter control laws at top legislative priority, sparking massive protests from pro-gun activists. Everytown has proudly touted being the largest outside spender in the Virginia election.

The Texas gun rights group has already sent “the alarm and alert to all of our members on the risk we face from this narcissistic billionaire”, and plans to work closely with other gun rights groups across the state, Cox said.

But, he added: “It’s real hard to compete with that much money.”

Everytown’s announced goal for 2020 includes focusing on more than two dozen Texas state house races, most of them in the Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan areas, as well as boosting several Democratic members of Congress facing tough election or re-election campaigns, including Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred. It will need to flip nine seats in the state house of representatives to achieve what it calls a “gun sense” majority, the group said in a call with reporters on Wednesday.

Everytown’s own polling indicates that a majority of likely voters in Texas own guns, but that some gun owners support some additional gun control measures.

“The state is becoming younger and increasingly diverse, and after years of failure by lawmakers to address gun violence, gun safety has become a top issue for voters, especially in the suburbs,” said Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group that is part of Everytown for Gun Safety.

Everytown does endorse and donate to Republican politicians who support gun control laws, but in practice, most candidates the group supports are Democrats. In Texas in the 2018 midterm elections, all of the candidates who earned the group’s backing were Democrats, an Everytown spokesperson said.

Alongside Everytown’s political donations, Moms Demand Action volunteers will be doing grassroots campaign organizing across the state in 2020. Everytown, Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, a youth group, claim 400,000 supporters across Texas who have volunteered or signed up for an online group or email list.

The way that Bloomberg’s massive political and philanthropic donations have helped him maintain political support has become a major area of scrutiny as the former New York City mayor has risen in the polls within the Democratic primary race.

“We’re an independent organization, totally separate from Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign,” Watts said in a call with reporters on Wednesday. Bloomberg currently provides “between one-quarter and one-third” of Everytown’s funding, depending on the cycle, and the group had more than 375,000 total donors last year, she said.