Just two years after a mass shooting in Tuscon, Arizona that killed 6 people and almost claimed her life, Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, have launched an advocacy group to combat the organization, funding and strength of the NRA.Americans for Responsible Solutions will encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership by communicating directly with the constituents that elect them.
We here at Englin Consulting applaud Giffords and Kelly for this worthy endeavor. After nearly two decades without any significant victory for gun control advocates, we offer up our three observations and considerations as they try to win on a shifting, but still difficult, political terrain.
1) Win in the states
If you don’t have a robust strategy for working in the states, you’re missing the ball.Fifty percent of members of Congress were once state legislators, and they bring their ideology and issue positions to the Hill with them from their state offices.Given redistricting and the increasing coordination of policy across states (primarily by conservative legislators through groups like ALEC), even if your issue matrix is primarily federal, you should be engaging heavily in advocacy in the states.While responsible gun ownership has not been a focus of attention on the Hill, there has been much more action - good and bad - at the state level. Any plan to change the culture and politics of guns has to include winning in the states.
In 2012, Mayor Bloomberg spent $3.3 million to oust Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA). That's one congressional seat out of 435. To compare, in 2011 Gov. Bob McDonnell spent $3.5 million to take control of the Virginia State Senate (that’s 10 targeted races). In 2012, now State Senator Chad Barefoot (R-NC) ousted an incumbent from office, running the most expensive state senate race in North Carolina history. His haul? $900,000.Making a lasting difference will require significant funding over the long term, in ways that deliver high ROI. Play in the states for big political impact, and go all in to win. It’s better to take out one incumbent Bloomberg-style than to be a minor player in 10 races.
3) Patience still required
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s single handed take down of anti-gun control Congressman Joe Baca didn’t immediately send ripples through the politics of gun control. The congressman he took out wasn’t a major player on a relevant committee and it didn’t start an outcry for new gun control legislation.
Sound like a waste of money? Not exactly. Bloomberg sent a message to any on-the-fence legislator: the NRA ain’t the only game in town anymore. When a legislator casts a vote on the President’s upcoming gun reform package, he or she won’t only have to consider the NRA, they will know Mayor Bloomberg is also waiting in the wings, and that’s a win.
That doesn’t mean target without legislative politics in mind. If there’s an opportunity to take out a member on a key committee, an ally of the NRA, or an otherwise powerful player, take it! But your win is more likely to be measured in changes in political culture and narrative then sweeping changes of the makeup of Congress.
Englin Consulting, LLC is a boutique strategic planning, advocacy, and communications firm founded in 2006 to help nonprofit organizations be more successful advocates for better policy outcome