By now you know the media narrative: young Americans are uniformly working together on “grassroots” anti-gun activism in an attempt to unseat pro-gun elected officials across the country at all levels of government.
The danger facing gun owners is very real. Without an historic effort from pro-gun voters, gun control will be on the agenda throughout the country come January. But the threat doesn’t come from a grassroots movement, it comes from a cadre of wealthy elites intent on eliminating your fundamental rights.
Contrary to anti-gun messaging, young Americans aren’t uniformly anti-gun. An Ipsos/USA Today poll conducted a month after the shooting in Parkland, Fla. found that when asked “[s]hould semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 be banned in the United States?” a mere 44-percent of those aged 18 to 24 answered “yes.”
But that same month, the news networks promoted the purportedly youth-driven March for Our Lives gun control rally in Washington, D.C. Research conducted by University of Maryland Sociology Professor Dana R. Fisher found that “[o]nly about 10 percent of the participants were under 18,” and that the average age of the adults at the rally was 49. At what was ostensibly a gun control protest, only 12-percent of first-time protestors cited gun control as their motivation for marching.
This calls into question the “grassroots” character of ongoing anti-gun efforts. However, nothing eviscerates the grassroots gun control movement myth quite like following the money behind it, and no better case study exists than Washington State.
In 2014, Washingtonians passed Initiative 594. Advertised as requiring background checks on all gun sales, in fact, I-594 criminalized even routine and temporary private firearms transfers.
The chief organizational backers of I-594 were the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund for I-594 and the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility (WAGR). Everytown is a front group for billionaire gun control financier Michael Bloomberg.
According to data from Washington’s Public Disclosure commission, Everytown’s I-594 fund spent nearly $1 million to back the initiative. WAGR spent nearly $10.5 million on the measure.
Apparently unable to recruit the requisite volunteers to get the I-594 on the ballot, WAGR paid $650,000 for professional signature gathering and verification. More than $7 million of the money raised for WAGR’s efforts came from Everytown and eight wealthy individuals. Bloomberg and Everytown accounted for nearly $2.6 million in cash and in kind contributions. Billionaire venture capitalist Nicolas Hanauer gave more than $1.3 million. Microsoft founder Bill Gates and wife Melinda provided $525,000 each, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and wife Connie gave $500,000 and $580,000 respectively, and company co-founder Paul Allen added $500,000.
Having succeeded in 2014, and in 2016 with I-1491, WAGR and many of their billionaire bankrollers are back for more. This election year the anti-gun magnates are pushing the omnibus I-1639.
I-1639 would prohibit the sale of semiautomatic rifles to adults aged 18 to 20. The measure categorizes all semiautomatic rifles (even rimfire) as “semi-automatic assault rifle[s]” and imposes a training requirement on prospective purchasers. I-1639 would also impose a $25 tax on semiautomatic rifles and create mandatory storage requirements for all gun owners.
Speaking to Seattle’s KING-TV about the initiative in May, WAGR CEO Renee Thompson explained that young activists had “changed the energy” around the gun issue. Did this mean that Washington’s anti-gun billionaires could save their greenbacks for a second yacht? Surely, just a handful of the intrepid young adults and others motivated by the young anti-gun activists the press keep touting would provide ample volunteer manpower to get I-1639 on the ballot and across the finish line in November.
As of early September, I-1639 backers had raised $4.3 million for the campaign, with $3.7 million coming from only 5 individuals and Bloomberg’s Everytown. This year Allen led the pack with $1.2 million, followed by Hanauer and wife Leslie who each provided just over $600,000. The Ballmers donated $1 million and Everytown came in with $250,000.
Despite the purported change in “energy,” I-1639 supporters paid more than $3.7 million to a professional signature gathering firm. Even after paying this exorbitant sum, I-1639 was nearly kept off the ballot.
In August, Superior Court Judge James Dixon blocked I-1639 from appearing on the ballot, citing severe defects in the paid signature gathering process. Washington law requires that signature petitions contain “a readable, full, true, and correct copy of the proposed measure printed on the reverse side of the petition,” so that signees know what they are supporting. The copy of the 30-page initiative on the forms used by the paid signature gatherers was crammed into a single page of unreadable small print and did not include underlining or strikethroughs that would indicate the changes to current law. Despite their underhanded tactics, I-1639’s backers were bailed out when the Washington State Supreme Court overruled Judge Dixon.
Billionaire financiers, millions paid to signature gatherers and unscrupulous tactics aren’t most Americans’ idea of grassroots civic engagement. On the other hand, NRA’s nearly six million members represent the most proven and powerful grassroots force in American politics. Through a membership armed with the facts and our efforts to inform others, we can leverage our authentic grassroots support to expose the true forces behind gun control and dispel the media-peddled fantasies that grant our opponents an undeserved legitimacy.