Mike Bloomberg Needs to Become the Koch Brothers of Gun Control

Someone else can worry about the terminals, Mike

Photo: Jackie/Flickr; illustration: Silvia

Earlier this year, there was a lot of speculation about whether former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg (I’m not calling him “Michael R.” and you can’t make me) would run for president as a third-party candidate. In March, he announced that was a risk he would not take, fearing that his candidacy could splinter votes among non-Republicans, resulting in a Trump or a Cruz presidency. Oh God, remember Ted Cruz?

According to his very well designed but distractingly responsive website, since his mayorship ended in 2013, Bloomberg devoted his time to philanthropy in 2014, and returned full-time to Bloomberg LP full time in 2015. Coincidentally or not, a lot of high-profile people have left the media arm of Bloomberg since then. You could probably make some kind of argument about how and whether Bloomberg the person should be running Bloomberg the company, but I’ll leave that to the media pundits. As much as he could do for a private data and media company, there’s a lot more he can do for a public democracy full of mostly reasonable people who want their citizens to stop shooting each other.

In 2006, together with the late Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Bloomberg founded a coalition called Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which now claims over a thousand current and former mayors who advocate for gun-control laws. In 2014, very shortly after he left office, Bloomberg pledged to spend $50 million to challenge the N.R.A., his biggest and boldest move yet. He created an umbrella group, expanding the focus from moms and mayors to citizens everywhere, with an organization with the irrefutable name Everytown for Gun Safety. But then what?

A few weeks ago after the Orlando massacre and a fifteen-hour Democratic filibuster on the floor of Congress, Slate’s Leon Neyfakh checked in with Bloomberg’s crusade. (Smartasses may here want to point out that the filibuster was right in spirit but wrong in letter, and to that I say, “Yes, dear. It’s not like Congress works anyhow.”) Neyfakh writes:

More than two years after Everytown’s launch, in the wake of the worst mass shooting in modern American history, it’s fair to wonder what Bloomberg and the organization he started have been up to — and what they have to show for their efforts. With this latest act of violence, and the latest squelching of reform in Congress, it’s easy to assume Everytown has been a failure, and to worry about what that means for the future of the gun debate. In fact, Bloomberg’s organization is at the center of what can legitimately be called a new American gun control movement — one that experts say has already begun to demonstrate, in the years since Newtown, that the NRA is not the invincible force many assume it to be.

He goes on to explain that Everytown’s approach has been slow and steady, from political image (it shouldn’t be a career-killer to be pro-gun control) to political victories (elect Democrats in favor of gun control, passing background-check legislation at the state level). So what’s left? First, the N.R.A. is huge, like ten-times-the-financial-resources huge. But it’s also demographically at odds with reality: fewer households own guns today than in the past half-century, and the overwhelming majority of Americans—even N.R.A. members—support gun control measures.

If there’s anything I learned from working at The New Yorker for seven years, it’s that the only way to get anything done in this country is for older white billionaires to funnel disgusting amounts of money into political action committees with blandly uptopian names. Also, Jane Mayer is a badass. So, without getting into Second Amendment territory, which is its own can of laser-eyed, improvised explosive worms, the best recourse we have is money. Ideally, someone else’s money—someone who has a lot of it.

Forget the evidence, Mike. FOLLOW THE MONEY.

It is generally considered uncouth to recommend that people throw money at a problem. It feels unfair: most people—particularly the ones who need the help and protection that money can buy—can’t afford to give. It feels kind of gross, like buying friends or influencing people you wouldn’t otherwise have access to if you didn’t have dollar bills coming out of your ears. It feels generally wrong, because people should be willing to help each other without financial incentive. But it’s too late to stick up our noses at the only thing that works.

Remember the 2008 election? It was a huge victory for small donors, except it totally wasn’t because that’s kind of a feel-good myth. Medium and large donors will always count more, because that’s how big numbers work. If you feel like you want to do something, you should! Donate to Brady, donate to Everytown, donate to Gabby Giffords’s P.A.C. But between you and me and everyone we know, Mike Bloomberg (I’m assuming one of you knows Mike and has sent this to him, great, thanks) is still the richest person who can get the most done when it comes to gun control.

What will 2016 say?

I realize that Mike is a busy man with lots of obligations and political speeches to give and companies to chair and boards to serve on, but frankly I don’t think anyone would be offended if he picked just this one thing and dedicated the rest of his career to it. (There are lots of other people who can run a big company just fine. You can’t do it all, Mike!)

Follow the Kochs’ lead and try systematically swaying elections with money, or maybe create your own spy network to gain a competitive advantage against the N.R.A. If all else fails, just fund the hell out of a bunch of different organizations, none of which can really be traced back to you except over the course of years of deep reporting, that push the country in the direction of better gun control. Everytown has done a lot, but it’s time for Mike to turbocharge the gun-control movement. It’s time to fight fire with money.