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Can Bloomberg's New Gun Control Group Take On the NRA?

Image: Michael Bloomberg

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Feb. 13, 2012 in New York City. Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

A new gun-control organization founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will pour more than $50 million into promoting a "gun sense" agenda this year –- but it faces entrenched and well-funded groups that have long exerted a powerful influence on gun issues in America.

Bloomberg's group, called Everytown for Gun Safety, is the largest single unified push for tighter restrictions yet organized by the billionaire and former politician who also founded the nationwide Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which spent about $1.7 million on lobbying efforts in 2013, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The National Rifle Association spent double that amount last year pushing for its agenda. The NRA’s political action committee spent more than $16 million during the 2012 election cycle. It has raised more than $13.7 million already in 2014, and spent only a fraction of that.

Bloomberg and other politicians in favor of tighter controls on guns joined the push for legislation at the state and federal level after the school shooting in Newton, Conn., in which 28 died. His new group is about more than preventing headline-grabbing attacks with “assault-style” weapons.

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About half of all homicides committed in the U.S. in 2012 were with handguns, according to FBI data. Suicides accounted for 61 percent of all gun deaths in America in 2010, the last year for which data is available, according to Center for Disease Control information reviewed by the Pew Research Center.

“This is not a battle of dollars. This is a battle for the hearts and minds of America, so that we can protect our children, protect innocent people,” Bloomberg said Tuesday on TODAY. “If you take a look at the number of people who use illegal guns to commit suicide, the number of people that are killed every year, we’re the only civilized country in the world that has this problem.”

The NRA did not immediately return requests for comment.

Bloomberg has put tens of millions of dollars into gun-control initiatives over the years, and become one of the most prominent single voices seeking change in the nation’s gun laws and culture. Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which he co-founded with former Boston mayor Thomas Menino in 2006, grew to include nearly one thousand mayors from across the country. He has donated more than $1 billion to his alma mater Johns Hopkins, where a Center for Gun Policy and Research exists in the School of Public Health that bears the billionaire’s name. While he was mayor in 2009, the city of New York conducted an undercover investigation of illegal sales at gun shows in Nevada, Ohio, and Tennessee.

This time, Bloomberg wants to rally 2.5 million supporters to take on gun violence issues, and will place field staff in states across the country, according to a release from Everytown.

The group announced events in Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia on Wednesday. The group also released what it said would be the first in a series of videos highlighting gun safety. In the first of the videos, a young girl discovers a loaded handgun in a closet. The screen fades to black before a shot rings out and the children’s mother screams for them.

“This is about emotion, and as I’ve said before, you know, the gun lobby has done a good job over the last 30 years of making a local minority afraid people will take their guns away,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said on Wednesday. “As a mother, I’m afraid that someone will take my children away.”

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In the end, the heft any group has when it comes to passing legislation for or against gun control comes down not just to dollars, but also the number of people who can be delivered to the ballot at election time, said Arkadi Gerney, a fellow at the Center for American Progress and former manager of MAIG.

The NRA claims to have 5 million members, though the number of active members has been questioned. Sponsorship materials for the group’s 2014 annual meeting in April promoted pre-convention email blasts that would help vendors reach “at least 3.7 million NRA members.”

“Both [money and membership] are really important historically,” Gerney said. “The other side has done both things well, they’ve supplemented the general unpopularity of their positions by having a very intense membership.”

The political support that could be offered by a well-funded group like Everytown might help politicians like John Morse, former president of the Colorado senate who was recalled over his support for more extensive background checks and limiting magazine capacity.

“Certainly all the support you can get is helpful I think. The difference really between where we were and where we want to be is chutzpah,” Morse said. “These new groups it’s like, OK great, money is great, people are great, but are we willing to do the hard work of talking about what gun violence really does.”