Politics & Policy

The Anti-Gun Billionaires

Microsoft founder Bill Gates (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
They have the money; populist gun-owners’ groups may still have more votes.

Those on the left say they abhor big money’s corrupting influence in politics — until a leftist billionaire starts trying to sway public opinion. That’s okay with them, because, you know, old George Soros really isn’t creepy at all — he’s just a grandfatherly figure who gives like Santa Claus. And the same goes for Warren Buffett and Michael Bloomberg — their billions are okay, too. All Bloomberg wants is for the rest of us to give up tobacco, big gulps, and guns.

Now Bill Gates has joined on the great lefty-billionaire good-guy list. Gates is donating $1 million to push a voter initiative in Washington State that would require “universal background checks” for all would-be gun buyers. If it passes, all gun sales will have to be vetted by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

“Universal background checks” has a nice poll-tested ring to it, but in reality it will really just make it more expensive and burdensome for private Americans to do what they’ve always done: trade, buy, and sell guns among themselves. According to the Gates initiative, a gun owner can’t sell a Winchester Model 70 rifle to a friend without running the transfer through a licensed gun dealer and paying fees and taxes. A gun owner on a skeet range also can’t say, “Hey Bob, can I try a round with your Beretta? I’m thinking about buying a Beretta.” He can’t buy the gun because, unless he runs off to a licensed dealer and does a lot of paperwork and pays fees, it would be illegal.

The 18-page law would make illegal so much of what law-abiding gun owners do as they shoot socially and go hunting that the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs now opposes Initiative 594. But one thing it won’t do is stop criminals from getting guns. The criminals aren’t going to say, “Gee whiz, now we can’t buy stolen guns any more or get some guy with a clean record to buy us a gun, because you know that’s illegal.”

If the billionaires really want to do something to help stop the mentally disturbed (who commit most of the mass murders) from getting guns, they could help fund the FixNICS effort (fixNICS.org). This is a lobbying campaign being spearheaded by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for firearms manufacturers, to get more states to put records of those found to be insane by a court of law into the NICS system so those people can’t buy guns. Yes, the “gun lobby” is doing this to make us safer; but, no, those billionaires aren’t helping.

But the media aren’t going to say such things out loud. Or, heaven forbid, do some reporting on what will really stop criminals from getting guns and stop sociopaths from committing suicide after taking as many innocent people as they can with them. No, real solutions require real reporting, and that just isn’t done on the gun issue. The trouble for the anti-gun types is that when you dig into the gun issue, the numbers keep showing that more guns actually do equal less crime. They also show that straw purchasers — those who can pass a background check and who buy guns for those who can’t — have little to fear from prosecutors. The facts, as it turns out, are too inconvenient for those who hate the idea that a free person can actually defend his own life.

And this ties back in to the Left’s billionaires, because when you follow the money, you can see which movement is the people’s movement. 

It turns out that the NRA’s funds mostly come from a large grassroots membership base. This is also true of Gun Owners of America, the Second Amendment Foundation, and other gun-rights groups. According to OpenSecrets.org, gun-rights groups “have given more than $30 million in individual, PAC, and soft money contributions to federal candidates and party committees since 1989.” Meanwhile, the money for gun-control advocacy comes mostly from wealthy liberals. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg started a pro-gun-control super PAC, Independence USA PAC, in 2012; it spent more than $8.3 million in several congressional races in 2012. Former representative Gabrielle Giffords started a super PAC in January 2013, Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS). ARS had reportedly raised more than $18 million by January 2014 from a few well-heeled individuals. Before these anti-gun super PACs came along, the expenditures of “gun-control groups, by comparison, have been barely a blip on the radar screen,” OpensSecrets.org says. “They’ve given a total of just under $2 million since 1989.”

#page#As these figures indicate, gun-rights advocates have a natural constituency. The millions of Americans who join gun clubs to shoot, sight in their hunting guns, and learn to protect themselves have something in common, and there are more than 100 million of them. What the anti-gun crowd chiefly has — other than a lot of the media and some rich folks — is emotion after some madman has done something evil. This can stir up well-meaning but dissociated people, but when the emotion burns away, what you have left is 100 million gun owners voting for what can actually stop a bad guy with a gun.

This is why in 2013 Bloomberg’s Independence USA PAC lost big against a less-well-funded and populist pro-gun movement in Colorado. And it’s why Sheriff David Clarke Jr. of Milwaukee County, Wis., was able to overcome Bloomberg’s money and win his primary.

This is also why, after losses in many states and nationally, gun-control groups decided they had a messaging problem. To win public support for gun bans, they paid consultants to develop a guidebook titled “Preventing Gun Violence through Effective Messaging.” The guide is the result of opinion research reportedly done by the firms Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, OMB ((I can’t find a research firm by this name)), and KNP Communications. In a section labeled “Overall Messaging Guidance,” the guide gives its number-one “Key Messaging Principle”: “Always focus on emotional and value-driven arguments about gun violence, not the political food fight in Washington or wonky statistics.” It further explains this strategy by saying, “It’s critical that you ground your messaging around gun violence in prevention by making that emotional connection.” Its second key principle is: “Tell stories with images and feelings.” The guide says, “Our first task is to draw a vivid portrait and make an emotional connection. We should rely on emotionally powerful language, feelings and images to bring home the terrible impact of gun violence.” They realize they’ve lost the rational and empirical debates about what really stops gun violence and instead want the debate enflamed by emotion.

The fact is that it is already illegal for someone to knowingly sell or give a gun to a person who can’t legally own a gun. However, as I learned in the course of researching my latest book, people who do so are very seldom prosecuted. I spoke with many cops and former and current gang members, and one thing they agreed on is that we’re not enforcing existing laws rigorously enough. A step that would do a great deal to stop criminals from getting guns would be simply to prosecute those who sell guns to criminals.

— Frank Miniter is a New York Times bestselling author whose latest book is The Future of the Gun

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