Will Deep-Pocket Foundations Join the Call for Gun Control?

No Guns

January 8, 2013: Source: Politico

One of our predictions for 2013 was that the White House and other levels of government would be more interested than ever in recruiting foundations to support or participate in governmental initiatives. So it didn’t surprise us to find that White House officials such as Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Director Jonathan Greenblatt, and members of Vice President Joe Biden’s staff held a “listening session” with a number of private foundations that, according to Politico, “have not previously been identified with major gun control efforts.” Among the participating foundations were the Open Society Institute, the McCormick Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the California Endowment.

Politico described the foundations as “traditionally work(ing) in public health fields,” a description that works for Robert Wood Johnson and the California Endowment, but not for OSI and McCormick, which have different or broader program agendas. Although the White House didn’t comment on the foundation conference call, one of the participants admitted that the likely motivation for convening “a bunch of deep-pocketed funders on the phone” was “not because they’re great dancers.” The participant told Politico, “They are testing the water to see, will you people with deep pockets, will you be there to back us up?”

There’s a good reason for the White House’s concern for recruiting deep-pocketed players on the side of gun control. Vice President Biden’s task force is expected to report back sometime in January with recommendations for enhanced gun control. As a step toward that end, the Vice President has invited the National Rifle Association and other gun rights organizations to meet with his task force today. Our analysis of the money behind the gun lobby showed the NRA alone spending over $240 million in 2010, more than the entire grantmaking of many major foundations. The money available to gun control groups such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is a tiny fraction of the resources available to the NRA.

Already, leaked information about the breadth of Biden’s interest in potentially extending gun control beyond simply reviving the assault weapon ban and limiting the purchases of high capacity ammunition has sparked opposition, not just from Republicans, but also from some Democrats. For instance, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who sports an “A” rating from the NRA, recently asserted that sweeping gun control legislation would not pass Congress. And while gun rights groups may be meeting with Biden’s task force this week, they have planned a “Gun Appreciation Day” for January 19th, two days before President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. The Gun Appreciation Day website lists approximately 40 sponsoring organizations. The National Rifle Association isn’t on this list, though we can’t imagine that it won’t tacitly or overtly applaud anti-gun control activists showing up in Washington for President Obama’s inauguration.

After Tucson, Aurora, and Newtown, the feeling seems to be that the time for enhanced gun control has come. However, no one should underestimate the power of the gun lobby. Writing in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Pablo Eisenberg writes that society would have been much better served if nonprofits and foundations had marched through Capitol Hill advocating gun control rather than plumping for the charitable deduction. He notes, “Only a handful of nonprofits have made gun control a priority. Even fewer foundations have given money to the cause, and most of their grants have gone to research, not to mobilize the opposition [to the gun advocates].”

If the NRA and its allies are to be stopped from picking apart the gun control proposals that may emerge from the Biden commission, the foundations on the White House call and others will have to put their capital behind the “sweeping advocacy campaign” that Eisenberg says is needed. Time will tell if the foundations step up to the plate, but as Eisenberg concludes, “there is no time to lose.”—Rick Cohen

  • Jeff Knox

    Several important factors need to be included in any discussion of foundations getting involved in gun control advocacy, first and foremost among them is the fact that gun control doesn’t work. The author mentions that most foundation money thrown into the gun control arena is targeted toward research rather than advocacy. There’s a reason for that. Several years ago, both the Centers for Disease Control and the National Science Foundation conducted reviews of gun control research and both concluded that there was no strong evidence that any of the gun control laws imposed in the US over the past 100 years has been effective at reducing crime, accidents, or suicide. Actually, there was one area of firearms law where a cause and effect relationship was indicated, but that was research showing that instituting more liberal policies on the licensing of citizens to carry concealed weapons appears to have a positive impact on reducing crime. That’s not a finding that gun control advocates (or the CDC and NSF panels – both with histories of support for gun control) are anxious to embrace. The simple fact is, that with all of the years of experimenting with gun control, from licensing and registration to outright bans, and all of the millions of dollars spent by proponents of those schemes on “research” projects to prove their efficacy, there is no strong evidence that any of them actually work. Not only is gun control a controversial political issue, it is an ineffective and expensive public policy.
    It is also very important to note that the National Rifle Association is not funded by deep-pocket foundations, nor is it funded by ideological billionaires like George Soros and Mike Bloomberg, nor the firearms industry. The NRA, and the hundreds of other local, state, regional, and national gun rights organizations are primarily funded by $20 dollar contributions from concerned citizens. Gun rights advocacy – or “anti-gun control” as this author chose to characterize us – is a true, broad-based, grass roots movement of concerned citizens. Anti-rights organizations, on the other hand, are AstroTurf operations with little serious public support, totally dependent upon deep-pocket foundations and wealthy ideologues for their existence. They are intentionally deceptive about their organizational objectives, claiming to be “gun safety” or “violence prevention” organizations when their actual objectives are the complete eradication of legally possessed gun in our society – even though all evidence shows that these restrictions and prohibitions don’t make society any safer or reduce violence.
    Certainly people – and foundations – are welcome to advocate for any cockamamie, wasteful, and socially detrimental programs they wish, but it is bad policy to throw money at failed social experiments based solely on ignorance and irrational fear.
    No form of gun control would have prevented the recent atrocities in Connecticut and Colorado. Foundations would better serve the public by investing in mental health, early childhood education, mentoring, and other proven programs that actually improve our society rather than divisive, ineffective, schemes that have little effect beyond making criminals out of otherwise law-abiding citizens and divert limited resources away from effective strategies for prevention of crime, suicide, and accidents.
    Jeff Knox
    Director, The Firearms Coalition
    A coalition of grass roots organizations, shooting clubs, and committed individuals dedicated to preserving, protecting, and advancing the basic human right of self-defense and the right to arms.
    We directly represent over 60,000 individuals and over 90% of our funding comes from individual contributions of $100 or less.