Freedomnomics

Article published Friday, December 2, 2016, at Philadelphia Inquirer.

Commentary: Bloomberg has little to show for millions spent on gun control

By John R. Lott, Jr.

If it wasn't for Michael Bloomberg's billions, there wouldn't be much of a gun-control movement.

This year, Bloomberg got a background check initiative onto the ballots of Maine and Nevada. He lost in Maine by 4 percent, and won in Nevada by just 0.8 percent. Now, Nevadans won't be able to privately transfer their firearms without going through a background check.

Bloomberg's initiative only eked out the win in Nevada because of the $20 million spent to support it, amounting to an incredible $35.30 per vote. He outspent his opponents by a factor of three - in Maine, by a factor of six. Bloomberg was responsible for more than 90 percent of the money going to support these ballot measures.

Of course, this doesn't count all of the studies that Bloomberg has funded to justify the initiatives. And he gives $50 million a year to Everytown for Gun Safety to push for regulations - 21/2 times the amount spent by the National Rifle Association on political activities. Gun-control advocates also receive a lot of free, favorable news coverage.

In short, to get close to earning even 50 percent of the vote, gun-control advocates have had to massively outspend their opponents. And sometimes they still fall short.

So much for the continually repeated claim that 80 to 90 percent of Americans favor background checks on private transfers of guns. If this were true, these initiatives would pass in landslides.

Funding also goes to candidates. From 2013 to 2016, Bloomberg donated a total of $48 million to candidates running for federal office. The NRA contributed a measly $2.1 million.

It is hard to keep track of donations for state and local races across the country, but Bloomberg has clearly devoted resources that the NRA can't even dream of. In 2015, Bloomberg spent $2.2 million on just two Virginia state Senate races. That is vastly more than the NRA was able to spend on any race for the U.S. Congress. In 2014, Bloomberg spent $150,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, an outspoken opponent of gun control. This is more than Clarke and his opponent spent on their own campaigns.

In Minnesota this year, Bloomberg spent what the local media describes as "loads of money" to give Democrats control of the state House so that they could push for background checks on private transfers. Instead, Republicans actually picked up a seat.

Research funding is even more lopsided. Here Bloomberg is joined by fellow billionaire George Soros, a couple dozen large health-care foundations, and even the Obama-led federal government. Together, they have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into funding gun-control research that supports their positions. Newly released Bloomberg studies garner massive, uncritical news coverage. NRA-funded research would be scoffed at, which is why the NRA doesn't even try to fund opposing studies.

Bloomberg is trying to influence the debate in still other ways. He has worked with the Columbia University Journalism School to instruct reporters on how to properly cover the gun-control issue. Of course, Columbia would never work with the NRA to create a similar program.

With a net worth of $43 billion, Bloomberg can afford round-the-clock, armed bodyguards. But he doesn't appreciate the need of others for armed protection.

And concealed handgun permit holders don't just protect themselves - they protect their fellow citizens. In my new book, The War on Guns, I point to many dramatic cases where mass public shootings were stopped before they could cause mass casualties. These stories barely received local news coverage.

In addition, our political leaders have also been responsible for promoting all kinds of false narratives. President Obama and Hillary Clinton have claimed that the United States is unique with respect to mass public shootings. And they have gone unchallenged when extolling the supposed benefits of background checks on private transfers. As I have shown in my new book, neither of these claims is true.

If it's correct, as gun-control proponents often claim, that political leaders don't have the courage to stand up to the gun lobby because of its massive resources, then it seems fair to ask how lawmakers and voters are apparently able to withstand the dramatically greater resources of Michael Bloomberg and his fellow advocates. How can Bloomberg spend so much and have so little to show for it? And will support for his issue drop among Democrats after Clinton's defeat?

Bloomberg may have the money, but the NRA is powerful because it has 5 million members and enjoys a high approval rating of 58 percent. These are things that money can't simply buy.

Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

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Some data not found at www.johnlott.org:

Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper