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Editorial: New rival to NRA could bolster reasonable gun controls

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg holds a

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg holds a news conference in the Blue Room at City Hall in Manhattan. (Dec. 12, 2013) Credit: Charles Eckert

Michael Bloomberg is fighting fire with fire in his battle over gun violence. In his first major political initiative since stepping down as New York City mayor, he's bankrolling a new grassroots rival to the National Rifle Association that has trained its sights on punishing elected officials who oppose reasonable gun laws.

Adopting the NRA's single-issue focus of working to defeat members of Congress who disagree with its gun views does risk further polarizing and coarsening the nation's politics. But with reasonable new laws like background checks at gun shows thwarted in Congress -- even as a stunned nation mourned the victims of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre -- it's time to try something other than the usual emotional appeals to common sense.

"We've got to make them afraid of us," Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg committed $50 million this year to the group, Everytown for Gun Safety. The group will fuse his Mayors for Reasonable Gun Laws with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an advocacy organization founded the day after the Sandy Hook shootings.

Everytown for Gun Safety should be careful not to mimic gun-rights extremists who bend the truth to win the day. But a principled focus on electing candidates who support reasonable efforts to curtail gun violence, and turning out of office those who don't, could work where moral suasion hasn't.

Some members of Congress genuinely believe there should be no restrictions on Second Amendment rights. But others cravenly do the NRA's bidding simply because they're afraid that if they don't, the gun-industry front group will target them in the next election. Bloomberg's tactic could change some of those minds and their congressional votes.

His new organization has a way to go to match the NRA's fervor, organization and political muscle. But $50 million is a good start.