When Shannon Watts and Mike Bloomberg joined forces I thought that for the first time the gun-control movement had a chance to level the playing field against the NRA. What I didn't know and couldn't predict was how long it would take. But I'm beginning to think that things are beginning to even out between the two sides, and if the Watts-Bloomberg combine can muster as much strength and activity in the next 12 months as they did in the last 12, by this time next year a game-changer may have really occurred.
Let's look first at the numbers. The NRA claims a total membership that jumps between 4 and 5 million, but a close look at subscription figures for their magazines provided to every member indicates a circulation of just over 3 million, and even if they are telling the truth when they say that 600,000 members choose not to subscribe, this still leaves them well short of the membership totals they want you to believe. Everytown doesn't enroll members in a formal sense so the comparison isn't exact, but they have an email list now running in the millions, and when Shannon twits something out to the cloud after the Coalition on Gun Violence started to bounce Jay Leno out of the SHOT show, the response revs up like a hurricane wind.
As for grassroots activity, here's another critical organizational resource in which Everytown easily meets or surpasses what the NRA can bring to bear. There's at least one local Everytown chapter now operating in all 50 states, and while some chapters are more active than others, a not-surprising function of volunteerism no matter how dedicated the volunteers, the fact that Everytown can pull followers out to multiple events in multiple locations at the same time gives them both the appearance and flexibility of real strength.
The strategy of showing up at retail venues and demanding gun-free zones gives Everytown an advantage that the NRA can't possibly overcome. First of all, it helps Everytown get its message out to a much larger and diverse audience because after the workplace, Americans leave their homes to go shopping more than they do anything else. Second, even if a particular jurisdiction allows retailers to set their own rules on concealed or unconcealed carry, who's going to argue with a bunch of women walking around with kids? Finally, and most important, protests and demonstrations usually work best when the protestors clearly articulate what they are against. Remember the circus in Texas when some dopes showed up at a Target store openly toting their guns?
The only arena in which the NRA continues to strut its stuff is politics at the national level, but even here I'm not sure that Shannon and Mike are far behind. Attitudes about gun ownership tend to align fairly closely with political views in general and defending the 2nd Amendment has been a positive wedge issue for the Republicans in the same way that the minimum wage always plays much better in states painted blue. On the other hand, do you think there was a single politician who didn't notice that Bloomberg and his friends outspent the NRA on the I-594 vote in Washington by better than ten to one? Three weeks after the election, while the NRA continues to jump up and down about the "historic" 2014 vote, they still have yet to post a single word on the NRA-ILA website about how they got clobbered on I-594.
Don't get me wrong. Shannon and Mike could double and redouble their efforts over the next few years and Americans might still decide that being able to walk into a gun shop and come out with a banger in their pocket is worth 100,000 lives dead and wounded every year. But for the very first time, Americans will have to make that decision after they've heard from not one, but two sides. And anyone who thinks that the "new" side isn't winning the argument isn't following the argument at all.