During the past couple of decades, as their wretched little cause slowly lost ground, it dawned on the more adroit of America’s gun-control outfits that they might profit from the invention of a new language to market their appeals. Thus it was that we moved away from a debate in which the Left was content to be represented by outfits named “Handgun Control Inc.” and in which restrictionists advocated brazenly for “gun control” and even “gun bans,” and moved toward a debate in which “Handgun Control Inc.” became the “Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence,” the term “gun control” was replaced in the political literature by the fraudulent “gun safety,” and skeptics were assured that the reformers’ goal was merely the institution of “sensible laws” based on the malleable notion of “common sense.”
Chief among this new school of gun-control organizations was Michael Bloomberg’s quixotic gang Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which, if the friendly New York Daily News’s Dan Friedman is to be believed, has emerged “since the Newtown shooting” as “the country’s leading gun-control group.” With his parade of absurd mayoral edicts, Bloomberg has shown himself to be a deeply misguided man possessed of an insatiable need to intrude upon the lives of those over whom he rules, and incapable of hiding his rank disdain for all those who have the temerity to dissent from his worldview. But he is by no means stupid. Mayors Against Illegal Guns boasts what may well be the Platonic ideal of a neutral-sounding, focus-grouped name; and, for most of its eight-year run, it has been assiduously careful to appear modest. (Who, after all, isn’t against “illegal guns”?) Consequently, it should have come as no surprise that when the likes of Eleanor Clift mistakenly predicted that “the culture of guns is beginning to go through a transformation in this country,” it was on Bloomberg’s group that she and other progressives pinned their hopes.
Still, slippery language and false moderation are dangerously unreliable rhetorical tools; they work only if the listeners fail to notice that they are being played. After six months of the increasingly hysterical behavior that has marked MAIG’s first forays, its membership appears to be cottoning on to the ruse. The mayor of Rockford, Ill., Lawrence Morrissey, who was for a brief time on board with Bloomberg’s stated agenda, put his disillusionment well. “The reason that I joined the group in the first place,” he explained contritely at a town-hall meeting on June 22 this year, “is because I took the name for what it said — against ‘illegal’ guns.” But “as the original mission swayed,” Morrissey continued, he decided that “it was no longer in line with my beliefs.” His audience applauded this revelation.
Morrissey is one of 50 or so mayors who have left Bloomberg’s group since February this year. “I was never an active member,” Sioux City mayor Bob Scott nervously made clear while justifying his decision to pull out. “They’re not just against illegal guns, they’re against all guns.” In July, the mayor of Nashua, N.H., Donnalee Lozeau, struck a similar note, revealing in an interview with the Manchester Union Leader that she had scolded Bloomberg for going after Senator Kelly Ayotte: “You’re Mayors Against Illegal Guns; you’re not Mayors for Gun Control!”
That Bloomberg is in fact very much a “mayor for gun control” should have been readily apparent to anybody who has ever heard him interviewed on the subject. Likewise, it should have been painfully obvious to anybody paying even minimal attention that the word “illegal” is included in the nomenclature for aesthetic reasons only. Indeed, for an indication of exactly how squalid the instincts of MAIG’s rank-and-file members are, remember that the group’s “No More Names” bus tour ended in farce and disgrace when the names of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Christopher Dorner were read aloud during a vigil for “victims of violence.” Nevertheless, if the mayors who have left MAIG were not paying attention at the time, they are now — better late than never.
Despite these setbacks, and a flurry of news reports this summer claiming that the group was beginning to fall apart, MAIG remains bullish. The group’s director, Mark Glaze, told Buzzfeed in July that the outfit is expanding: “Mayors come and go,” he huffed. “We lose them on occasion, but it’s going upward.” Perhaps so. But whether the raw numbers are going upward or downward, it cannot be good news that a number of affiliated politicians have felt pressured not only to quit the group but also to explain bluntly and publicly why they did so. Mayors Against Illegal Guns has fewer than 5 percent of the nation’s mayors on board: Suffice it to say that there is little advantage in the group’s expanding if it adds only mayors from cities that already support its agenda. As the Union Leader quipped last month, the group might consider changing its name to “Liberal Mayors Against the Second Amendment” — and that way does not lie progress.
As Bloomberg has stepped into the limelight and campaigned more forthrightly for controversial legislation, those mayors who were content with the group’s vague message and lower profile have become nervous — and the political benefit of membership has either disappeared or been inverted. “I am trying to persuade — in whatever way I’m allowed to — the gun groups to put out different ads,” Chuck Schumer told Time magazine in a recent interview. “Frankly, I don’t think Bloomberg’s ads are effective. The mayor of New York City putting ads against people in red states is not going to be effective.”
On C-Span, Patrick Leahy concurred with Schumer: “Unfortunately, you have some on the left, like the mayor of New York City, who actually didn’t help a bit with his ads. He actually turned off some people that we might have gotten for supporters.” Presumably, becoming synonymous with a man who is nationally famous for being a confiscatory killjoy did not help MAIG, either.
Leahy and Schumer’s reading of the situation is typically astute. In April, Mayors Against Illegal Guns ran commercials that brutally criticized Senator Mark Pryor (D., Ark.) for his vote against the Toomey-Manchin background-check legislation. Far from buttering up Pryor for a potential second stab at gun-control legislation, the move forced the senator to respond categorically, locking in his opposition. In the very first commercial of Pryor’s campaign, the senator spoke straight to the camera and defended his “No” vote. “The mayor of New York City is running ads against me because I opposed President Obama’s gun-control legislation,” Pryor announced defiantly. “I approve this message because no one from New York or Washington tells me what to do.” “I don’t take gun advice from the Mayor of NYC,” Pryor continued on Twitter.
Nor, it seems, does anybody else.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.