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The Myth of Big Money and Gun Control

One of the chief talking points of liberals who have denounced National Rifle Association’s stand against President Obama’s efforts to pass more gun control laws has been to claim that the opposition has been mainly a function of the malign influence of money on politics. Their argument is to assert that the NRA’s influence is more a function of the large contributions gun manufacturers lavish on the group rather than the donations and the political fervor of its members. Following this playbook, the liberal mainstream media has consistently portrayed the efforts of those seeking to increase the regulation of gun ownership as the poor David fighting the wealthy NRA Goliath. Much of this narrative was undermined by the intervention in the debate by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has invested many millions in the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group whose purpose it is to combat the NRA in local political races. But a story in yesterday’s New York Times illustrates how much of a myth is the notion that gun rights advocates are a function of big business while their opponents are the expression of a grass roots movement.

The piece depicts the struggle to recall two Democratic members of the Colorado legislature that voted for what the paper called “some of the strictest gun control measures in the country” passed last year. State Senators John Morse and Angela Giron are portrayed as writing a new chapter in the annals of courage for standing up to the NRA as anger over their decision has fueled a push to evict them from office that both sides in this political battle see as sending a message to politicians who might vote for gun legislation. But the narrative of victimization for the pair is undermined by two key paragraphs that are buried at the bottom of the story:

Ms. Giron has support from powerful Democrats — including Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who has campaigned for her — and there is a political action committee supporting her. The PAC has hired a staff member from President Obama’s re-election campaign, Chris Shallow, who handled field operations in North Carolina for the Obama campaign.

Ms. Giron and Mr. Morse are raising and spending far more than their opponents. Ms. Giron’s supporters have raised more than $87,000 and Mr. Morse’s more than $153,000, according to campaign disclosures. Each campaign has received thousands from progressive groups in Colorado and $35,000 apiece from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington group that supports liberal and environmental causes, and $3,500 each from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

In other words, big moneyed interests are fighting the battle over guns–but the side with deep pockets isn’t the one attempting to uphold the Second Amendment.

Far from illustrating how a small group is manipulating the debate about gun legislation in order to frustrate the liberal post-Newtown massacre push, what the Times has done is to remind us that the real struggle here is between big liberal money and small town activists who want to protect their rights:

In Colorado Springs, supporters of the recall set up a political action committee, the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, and started printing bumper stickers, hiring paid signature-gatherers and taking donations. They have collected $19,750 to date, including $250 in ammunition that was donated as door prizes for volunteers. The vast majority of contributions have come from donors around Colorado Springs … In Pueblo, Mr. Head took a hiatus from his job fixing water heaters, borrowed $4,000 from his grandmother and set to gathering the 11,000 signatures needed for a referendum on Ms. Giron.

There is a good argument to be made that the recalls are unnecessary and a waste of time and money no matter which side you are on. Morse is, after all, retiring next year and Giron was scheduled to face the voters again next year anyway. One can also claim that the measures the pair voted for—more background checks and limits on magazine size—are not unreasonable.

But the lesson here is not so much on the merits of the gun debate as it is on the falsity of the idea that the gun rights lobby is the 800-pound gorilla in the struggle. If anything, it is obvious that liberals are as much, if not more, capable of mobilizing financial resources to get their way on gun restrictions and far less dependent on grass roots activism than the pro-gun forces. No matter who wins in the recall votes scheduled for September, this campaign has undermined the liberal talking point about big money and guns. What it has also done is to show that efforts to impress upon legislators that they must listen to voters is one that works as much if not more to buttress the NRA’s position as it does that of Bloomberg.

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