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Will Michael Bloomberg's gun-control ads pay off?
The New York City mayor taps his personal fortune to go head-to-head with the mighty NRA

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is putting his money where his mouth is, unleashing a $12 million advertising campaign to pressure senators in 13 swing states to support tighter gun laws.

In the ad above, a bearded, rifle-holding man sits in the back of his truck, and speaks directly to the camera: "For me, guns are for hunting and protecting my family," he says. "I believe in the Second Amendment, and I'll fight to protect it. But with rights come responsibility. That's why I support comprehensive background checks, so criminals and the dangerously mentally ill can't buy guns."

The billionaire mayor says he wants voters to "call their senators if they believe that we should have gun checks that stop criminals and people with mental illnesses from getting guns." Bloomberg has been one of the nation's most outspoken supporters of enacting new gun laws, including universal background checks for gun buyers and a ban on assault rifles, since the December rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He says that 90 percent of Americans support broader background checks, and laments that they're overshadowed by the National Rifle Association's pro-gun-rights lobbyists.

The NRA has wasted no time pushing back. The organization's chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, called Bloomberg's ad blitz "reckless" and "insane." Alluding to Bloomberg's ill-fated ban on giant sugary sodas in New York, LaPierre accused the mayor of trying to buy support for his political views. "He can't spend enough of his $27 billion to try to impose his will on the American public," LaPierre said on NBC's Meet the Press. "They don't want him telling [them] what food to eat. They sure don't want him telling [them] what self-defense firearms to own, and he can't buy America."

If nothing else, Bloomberg is giving gun-control advocates a chance to match the clout of the NRA. And he has already shown he can win, by pumping money into a successful effort to defeat pro-gun-rights Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) and to push gun-control advocate Robin Kelly to victory in a special congressional primary in Illinois. This new wave of ads, bankrolled largely with the mayor's personal fortune, "further cements his position as the main political force challenging the clout of the National Rifle Association," says Andy Kroll at Mother Jones. "For decades, the NRA has used its money and manpower to oust politicians who support any new regulation of guns in America." It has stifled any attempt to enact new gun laws or renew a ban on military-style, semiautomatic assault rifles that expired in 2004. Now, Bloomberg is giving the NRA a fight, and "giving cover to pro-gun-control legislators."

Bloomberg's "track record — and skilled team of campaign operatives — make him formidable," say Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan at The Washington Post. And there's no denying that his tremendous wealth provides him the luxury of fighting political battles others can't. "But there's plenty of reason to think that Bloomberg may be charging at a windmill with this latest round of ads." One reason: This isn't an election year, so the senators he's targeting have little reason to fear a voter backlash from this PR assault.

Bloomberg's successes in House races were built on timing; his super PAC... went up with a heavy barrage of ads as most voters in each race were paying attention. While Bloomberg is up to something else here — he is trying to influence senators' votes, not win votes for their opponents — timing still matters a great deal in politics and it's hard to see how $12 million spent in March of an off-year will have a tremendous persuasive effect on the incumbents. [Washington Post]

There's even some reason for the pro-gun-control crowd to be afraid Bloomberg's power play will backfire, suggests Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice. The NRA says it's going to launch its own ad campaign painting Bloomberg as an "elitist billionaire" trying to tell the rest of us what to do.

This is so typical of American politics. There are issues that can be hotly, passionately debated on their merits. But it always comes down to trying to personally discredit someone and push hot buttons. [Moderate Voice]

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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