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A Battle of Goliaths: Michael Bloomberg and His Gun Control Group Take on the NRA

Thune's office placed a call to Munson, who told them he didn't oppose the amendment, a Thune staffer said. Several days later Munson resigned from the mayors group, Feinblatt says. Munson could not be reached for comment.

"Our objective was to demonstrate that there could be a political advantage to voting for reasonable gun laws, and that there is a political cost to not doing that," Glaze says.

In New York, Feinblatt set up a war room and staffed it 18 hours a day for nearly two weeks. At its peak, 10 people crammed into the room to do legal research, make phone calls, send e-mails and coordinate with the mayors in the group. A half-dozen others focused on getting reporters, editorial boards and advocacy groups interested in the issue.

The lawyers in the room stood by to counter objections instantaneously. So, for instance, when staffers from a New Mexico senator's office were unsure what the amendment would mean for them, Feinblatt says, he was ready.

Boom! Feinblatt's lawyers spit out an analysis -- not of federal law, but of New Mexico law -- within an hour. State by state, the lawyers were churning out customized analyses to salve any concerns. The phones hummed.

When the bill was debated on the Senate floor, Thune left himself open to ridicule by suggesting that Central Park would be safer if South Dakotans were allowed to take guns there. In fact, Bloomberg says, a slaying in Central Park hasn't occurred since 2002, and he notes in an interview that it "was done with a rock."

The vote itself, a 58 to 39 nail-biter on July 22 that left the NRA two senators short of what it needed, set in motion the inevitable postgame spin. In defeat, the NRA deemed the vote a "major step forward" because 20 Democrats sided with them. Thune blamed the outcome on "anti-gun senators" and "overheated rhetoric and fear-mongering." The mayors group called it a "major victory."

Looking back, Cox says in an interview that "only Michael Bloomberg and the gun-control community would characterize a 58-39 vote in our favor as some kind of resounding victory." He notes that the NRA has been trying to expand conceal-carry rights for years, only to encounter opponents who "kicked and screamed hysterically every time."

Now that the mayors have tasted a Capitol Hill win -- major in their eyes, puny in the NRA's -- it's looking like this bitterness could linger awhile. "The NRA? They're not going to go quietly into that good night," Nutter, the Philadelphia mayor, says in an interview.

But the mayors say they don't want to just play defense, they'll also play offense. Next on their agenda is a rewrite of laws that they say allow terrorists to buy guns. Bloomberg says he's also concerned about the smuggling of weapons south of the border; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has acknowledged that U.S. guns play a large role in the drug violence sweeping Mexico.

"We are the largest exporter of weapons to Mexico," Bloomberg says. "What America's doing is a disgrace."

The mayors group now envisions itself as nothing less than a permanent counterweight to the NRA, "the new sheriff in town," as one strategist put it. Cox promises in an interview "that the NRA will be there, standing between [Bloomberg] and the Second Amendment."

Neither side lacks for resources to extend the grudge match. Bloomberg, who is seeking a third term, is the world's 17th-richest person with an estimated $16 billion personal fortune, according to Forbes magazine.

The NRA checks in with an annual budget around $200 million -- though not a penny of that is from Bloomberg. As it turns out, sometime around the mayor's Feb. 14 birthday last year, an anonymous mischief-maker bought him a one-year NRA membership. When Bloomberg turned 67 this year, he thought better of ponying up the cash to renew it.

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