August 26, 2014
By CLIFF SCHECTER
Somewhere in a large glass tower in Northern Virginia, there’s a guy who runs guns with a French name having a bad day. With good reason.
It was reported Monday that Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder and incredibly wealthy guy, and with his wife, Melinda, have given $1 million to Initiative 594 in Washington state. The ballot initiative, if passed by voters on November 4 (and it currently enjoys overwhelming support), will require universal background checks for all firearm purchases in the state.
Gates is only the latest Washington billionaire to give to the effort, with original Amazon investor Nick Hanauer providing crucial early funding, and more recently upping his overall donation to $1.4 million. Additionally, Gates’s Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, has provided $500,000 for the cause.
But Gates’s fame brings more attention and further legitimizes the initiative in a way that almost nobody else could. Once the Gates Foundation made it a priority to combat malaria around the world in 2000, it brought down deaths due to the insect-borne disease by 20 percent in 11 years, saving the lives of 1 million African children in the process.
Gates has the ability to grab headlines and make an issue go viral with the constant media coverage he receives, and the financial ability, if he wins, to fund similar efforts around the country. His involvement could be the answer to the public health crisis that makes American children 93 percent of those murdered in the 26 high-income countries around the world.
Meanwhile, the NRA has…Chuck Norris, doing its “Trigger The Vote” Campaign. An actor, in the sense that he showed up in films, who was last seen round-housing Vietnamese extras in B-movies in the ’80s, back when he was only pushing 50. In more recent times, the more Methuselah-esque-appearing Norris has spent his time warning us of 1,000 years of darkness if President Obama is reelected. (He was. Boo!)
That, in short, is why the guy with the French-sounding name, National Rifle Association head honcho Wayne LaPierre, is probably somewhere drowning his sorrows in his Pernod. Because Gates’ involvement in this issue is just about the last thing LaPierre needs.
Already, the NRA has shown its disdain for anyone with the guts and resources to take on its political cartel of legally bribed legislators around the country. It was used to having the field to itself financially in the 2000s, until along came New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. After seeing his constituents and police force victimized by lax gun laws out of state, lobbied for by the NRA, he decided it was time to do something.
The now former mayor’s activism had led to the ire of LaPierre & Company, who’ve just released a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign blasting Bloomberg, replete with his supposed sneering at “flyover country” in between the coasts. Which LaPierre clearly doesn’t do while receiving his million-dollar-plus compensation in the wealthy Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.
Ironically, it was in Virginia where Bloomberg’s organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, had one of its biggest victories, when it elected a governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in 2013. None of whom thought a 12-year old should be able to open-carry an Uzi in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, because of, you know, freedom. Suddenly those who agree with the 90 percent of the country who support universal background checks had access to similar, if not greater, financial resources than those who pledged their allegiance to an arms dealer-funded front group.
Bloomberg is worth $33 billion, but if that’s not enough, Gates is worth well over two times that amount. Who knows, with that kind of dough, maybe even measures that “only” enjoy 56 percent support like bans on assault weapons and/or high-capacity magazines could pass via direct voting by uncorrupted American citizens. Or perhaps state legislators and members of Congress who bend easily to the will of these Lords of War could be swapped out for those who live in a closer neighborhood to the best interests of the American populace.
Likely the NRA will try to do to Gates what it has attempted to do to Bloomberg for a few years now, and seek to make this fight about him and not its right-wing radicalism in the service of avarice. He’s a billionaire trying to influence our political process, after all, unlike Manhattan resident David Koch, who along with his brother Charles has polluted our political process to no end, including funding the NRA.
Sure, in an ideal world big money wouldn’t play such an outsize role in our elections, such as this hugely important ballot initiative in Washington state. But that’s not what the NRA wants. It just wants its big money still to be all that decides the outcome, and it isn’t. Which is why Wayne LaPierre’s having a bad day.