Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken on gun violence as a personal cause.Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Using $50 million of his personal fortune, Bloomberg last month launched a coalition to champion issues like mandatory background checks for private firearm sales. Called Everytown for Gun Safety, the alliance, which has rolled out in 15 states including Texas, intends to counter the cultural and political might of gun rights groups by introducing legislative reform in statehouses. It focuses not on the limitation of gun rights — a red flag to Second Amendment advocates — but on the reduction of the types of violence brought about by lax gun-safety laws. Everytown will concentrate on the lack of background checks in private sales, gun ownership’s role in domestic violence, fatalities among children who accidentally fire a weapon, and the everyday gun violence experienced by inner city communities.
But even with this soft messaging, frontier states like Texas won’t make it an easy sell. Gun ownership in Texas crosses political lines. While local Republican politicians run on a Second Amendment rights platform as a matter of course, even Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Wendy Davis proclaimed her support for the open carry of handguns. During the last legislative session, conservative legislators successfully passed a number of pro-gun bills, including one that reduced the number of training hours required for concealed handgun owners to get a license.
Michael Cargill, Central Texas Gun Works’ owner, is emblematic of the slippery Texas gun story.
A courteous and powerfully built man in cowboy boots, he fits into a typically Lone Star stereotype of Western masculinity. But he’s also black and openly gay, which are far less associated with people in his position. Cargill became an instructor after his grandmother was mugged and raped. The incident motivated him to offer firearm lessons — which he said have an enrollment of 5,000 and are female-dominated — to empower women.
Keeping one stern eye on the store’s security camera feed while talking to Al Jazeera, Cargill said he isn’t cavalier about gun safety. As a licensed gun dealer, he said, he studiously runs federal background checks on his buyers. He ships online orders only to other licensed dealers. His clients are responsible folk, he emphasized, who wish to learn firearm safety and compliance with Texas regulations — of which, he added archly, there are many.
But to Cargill, rampant gun violence is a manufactured problem of the left. He dismissed claims that preventable crimes occur when firearms fall into the wrong hands.
“Why focus our attention on firearms when the number of handguns used in a crime is so small compared to automobile fatalities?” he asked.
Moreover, he believes the volume of private gun sales is small compared with those that happen in gun shops like his. And regarding those transactions that occur between private individuals or at a gun show? A seller of a secondhand car isn’t required to vet the buyer, he argued, so why impose such regulation on the firearm trade?
Yet for gun-safety advocates, that private sale loophole, which requires no background check and which they argue applies to 40 percent (PDF) of gun exchanges in the U.S., is precisely what they hope to regulate.
At the launch of Everytown for Gun Safety in Austin, state Rep. Elliott Naishtat announced that some House members plan to introduce “reasonable gun control measures” in the next legislative session. This might include the expansion of background checks for private sales and gun shows, though he later told Al Jazeera that the details are still evolving.
Bloomberg’s Everytown coalition may provide the extra firepower that legislators like Naishtat need. Incorporating Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which claims nearly 1,000 mayors as members, as well as prominent Texas board members like Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo and Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Everytown hopes to increase its Lone Star traction. The group’s advocacy arm will provide voters with candidate scorecards for the congressional midterms, while a voter campaign aims to mobilize voters toward politicians that support gun safety.