Michael Bloomberg and the Gun-Violence Prevention Movement: It’s Complicated
Michael Bloomberg is arguably the most dominant figure in the gun-violence prevention movement. The billionaire media titan has reportedly contributed more than $270 million to causes and candidates in pursuit of tighter gun laws, and he established Everytown for Gun Safety, the biggest advocacy group, in 2014 with a $50 million pledge.
His advocacy dates to the 2000s, when he was mayor of New York City. Eric Adams, the current mayor and a former police captain, recently declared him “the modern-day Paul Revere” for the movement.
We're sorry. Something went wrong.
We are unable to fully display the content of this page.
The most likely cause of this is a content blocker on your computer or network.
If you continue to experience issues, please contact us at 202-466-1032 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Bloomberg’s advocacy dates to the 2000s, when he was mayor of New York City. Eric Adams, the current mayor and a former police captain, recently declared him “the modern-day Paul Revere” of the movement.
Yet the billionaire comes in for ample criticism as well. The former Republican’s courtship of GOP lawmakers and other atypical allies sometimes makes his colleagues in the movement uncomfortable. In 2017, Everytown volunteers objected to Everytown backing of Fraternal Order of Police events, which the organization then discontinued.
“I feel betrayed,” wrote violence survivor Kate Ranta after an Everytown-sponsored FOP conference invited as a speaker Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby, who had recently been acquitted of criminal charges after shooting and killing an unarmed Black man, Terence Crutcher.
Everytown, with revenue nearly three times that of any counterpart, reaches into virtually every corner of the movement, sometimes with suffocating effect, advocates say privately. One example of its influence: John Feinblatt, Everytown’s president, serves as president of the Trace news outlet, which the organization helped launch but which now has funding from more than 30 others. (The Trace says it is editorially independent of Everytown and that neither donors nor board members have any say in its coverage.)
Everytown operates in a top-down, controlled manner, and its influence in the movement is such that groups generally sing from a songbook that Bloomberg writes, says Micah Sifry, a former Nation editor who writes about organizing and movements. “That gets in the way of the potential for our response to gun violence to be more like a movement.”
“You never see a movement where one organization is so much the Bigfoot,” he adds.
Everytown rejects the idea that the billionaire is tamping down the movement’s energy. Bloomberg provides a quarter of Everytown’s revenue or less, the group says, and its donor rolls in less than a decade have grown to 800,000, including small-gift supporters as well as megadonors, businesses, and professional sports teams. It also has 10 million members — “about as good a measure of energy as I can imagine,” Feinblatt says.
Everytown’s views, Feinblatt adds, reflect those of the American public, which is essential to getting legislation through Congress, particularly the Senate, where a filibuster derails anything without 60 votes. “This is simple arithmetic,” he says. “It takes 60 votes to pass a bill. The fact that we are nonpartisan is one of our strengths.”
Nonetheless, one of Bloomberg’s top lieutenants concluded that the movement needed something more. Mark Glaze, who died earlier this year, was one of the architects of Everytown. Yet Glaze left the organization and in 2016 launched a new advocacy group, Guns Down America.
Glaze’s experience at Everytown, says Guns Down co-founder Igor Volsky, “pushed him into a place where he felt that the movement just needed a bolder strategy and message and to really build out a much more defined left flank. That simply didn’t exist.”
Some philanthropy leaders also sought a different approach, Volsky says. “There was interest from institutional funders who had been funding this space for a long time. They had been frustrated that there had not been more progress since Sandy Hook.”
Mayor Bloomberg has helped this movement to walk. There are others coming in around and behind him now who are ready to run.
Guns Down America is publicly more critical of the Biden administration than other groups, pushing it to prioritize gun safety and take on big issues like an assault-weapons ban. It also has led successful pressure campaigns that helped persuade FedEx and Wells Fargo to cut ties with the NRA and Walmart to limit gun sales.
Joining Guns Down on the movement’s left flank is Change the Ref, started by Manuel Oliver and his wife, Patricia, after their son, Joaquin, was killed in the 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. Oliver describes the organization as the “disruptive side of the movement. We break the rules.” This summer, he organized a milelong caravan of 52 empty school buses to drive by the Houston home of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, each of the caravan’s 4,368 empty seats representing a child who’s died from gun violence since 2000.
Such direct action is rare in the movement, but the mainstream organizations know it’s needed, Oliver says. “The other groups won’t do it. But they will celebrate it.”
Change the Ref is a tiny, volunteer-driven organization. Guns Down’s budget is small — about $1 million — but the group is growing quickly as the movement matures, says Kendeda Fund adviser David Brotherton, who helps lead the Fund for a Safer Future, a donor collaborative that supports Guns Down. Bloomberg’s influence has had a moderating effect on the movement’s ambitions as it built an infrastructure and base of support over the past decade, he adds. Now donors are ready to pursue big change.
“You have to walk before you run,” Brotherton says. “And Mayor Bloomberg has helped this movement to walk. There are others coming in around and behind him now who are ready to run.”
Reporting for this article was underwritten by a Lilly Endowment grant to enhance public understanding of philanthropy. The Chronicle is solely responsible for the content. See more about the Chronicle, the grant, how our foundation-supported journalism works, and our gift-acceptance policy.