Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


True Crime

bloomberg-2

Michael Bloomberg. (Photo: lev radin/Shutterstock)

Mark Wahlberg Is the Missing Link in Bloomberg’s $50 Million Gun-Control Plan

• April 17, 2014 • 1:39 PM

Michael Bloomberg. (Photo: lev radin/Shutterstock)

Forget money and the mom-vote—it’s a question of charisma.

“We’ve got to make them afraid of us.”

—Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the New York Times, April 16, 2014

He’s an American institution, an icon, his ambition as mountainous as his wealth. He will win hearts and minds. He will commit vast money and time to the issue: guns. He will change the course of an election.

So much for Charlton Heston in 2000. But what about Michael Bloomberg in 2014? On Tuesday, New York’s former mayor—and unapologetic poster-child for the so-called nanny state—announced that he would be merging his own gun-control advocacy group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, with Moms Demand Action. The new umbrella organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, will position itself to mobilize voters in state and local elections and develop an aggressive ground campaign to rival that of the National Rifle Association and its five million members. Bloomberg tells the Times that his first gift to Everytown will run to circa $50 million.

Let’s count the points in Bloomberg’s favor: a personal net worth pushing $10 billion; a passionate coalition of parents (roped in via Moms Demand Action) that Bloomberg has already begun to organize with plutocratic efficiency; and an undeniably stylish website. Of equal importance is the surgical specificity of Everytown’s aims. Rather than targeting specific weapons or, as some states have done, limiting access to ammunition, the new non-profit will lobby, advertise, and target voters on the single issue of background checks: sensible waiting periods, stricter inquiries, and so on.

“I haven’t used a gun anywhere other than on a movie set and I’d like to see if we could take them all away. It would be a beautiful thing.”

What Bloomberg lacks at present is a charismatic figurehead, someone who speaks with simplicity and benevolence and conjures magnetic energy among a variety of audiences—a PTA meeting, a smallish tabernacle, a demonstration on the National Mall. To see just how crucial such a figure can be, we need only consider America’s last landmark gun moment.

As president of the NRA, the late Charlton Heston took a barnstorming tour of swing states during the 2000 election that proved a decisive factor in the campaign (see: Virginia, West). It was Heston’s third year as NRA chief, and one that would cripple Gore in the fall. From Elks Lodges to churches and arena-size stages, Heston would look down on crowds of thousands, speaking in personable stentorian like his Brutus on the steps of the curia. A leftist-centrist in the ’60s, Heston had moved steadily to the right on various issues but none so much as gun rights. He learned to play the demagogue. That’s when we started seeing those “Charlton Heston Is My President” bumper stickers. Clint Eastwood is probably still jealous.

Reporting for Los Angeles magazine, Ed Leibowitz evoked a sense of the tent-revivalism in Heston’s Virginia appearances:

There he is, wielding the staff of Moses, holding the reins of Ben-Hur’s horses, staring piercingly into the distance with a shotgun broken open at his shoulder.

Should Gore prevail, he warns, the Democrat will be handed “the power to hammer your gun rights right into oblivion. If freedom is in danger, it is our duty to be blinded to all else.”

When his words turn guttural, the tendons along Heston’s neck stretch taut as a bowstring. The audience, absorbing his message of blood, sacrifice, and peril, also undergoes a transformation. A thousand jawbones strain toward the speaker and are suddenly as resolute as Heston’s own. “Instead of fighting to create a nation, we are fighting for its survival,” he proclaims. “When you pull the lever to vote freedom first, you are doing no less than our forefathers pulling the trigger against the tyrants at Lexington and Concord.”

That’s the kind of elemental, gut-kicking stagecraft that Bloomberg’s machine will have difficulty matching. Meanwhile, more and more southern politicians of both parties are using assault weapons in campaign ads, mowing down copies of the Affordable Care Act and the Cap-and-Trade Bill. (Evan Osnos has a good piece on this craze in the New Yorker, while the Daily Show recently compiled some of the more colorful TV ads in question.)

Bloomberg’s solo anti-gun projects have tended to founder. He interceded in Colorado’s 2013 recall elections that hinged on the gun issue, losing his $300,000 investment to the NRA’s superior organizing machinery.

There’s another major impediment to the Bloomberg scheme: the surging influence of out-of-state donations on regional races. The Supreme Court ruled on April 2, in McCutcheon v. FEC, that overall campaign contribution limits were unconstitutional; in essence, the justices further broadened the already expansive latitude that mega-moneymen such as Sheldon Adelson, the Kochs, and Art Pope have exploited in favor of their pet issues. The NRA and its wealthier members contribute to stand-your-ground ads in certain states, while out-of-state contributions helped fund the conservative push to pass California Prop 8 in 2008. That was before Citizens United. Compared with the still-growing political clout of billionaire bundlers, Bloomberg’s $50 million starts to sound like walking-around money.

For now, Bloomberg will have to make peace with the national Democratic Party—a group with whom his alliance grows both deeper and more complicated every day. “You can tell me all you want that the Republicans would be worse in the Senate than the Democrats,” he said to the Times. “Maybe they would. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.”

An informal survey of all the moms I know suggests several promising Everytown spokespeople. My proposal of Mark Ruffalo earned a 100 percent yes-please rating from the mothers, while elsewhere someone suggested Jennifer Lawrence. A truly fun candidate would be the musclebound, super-likable Mark Wahlberg, a devout Catholic with serious crossover appeal who stars in action films and distrusts U.S. gun culture.

“I believe Charlton Heston is America’s best villain because he loves guns so much,” Wahlberg once said. “Certainly, I haven’t used a gun anywhere other than on a movie set and I’d like to see if we could take them all away. It would be a beautiful thing.”

(Wahlberg has one thing in common with Heston—neither guy trusted gorillas.)

Can Bloomberg recruit a Wahlberg type—someone who proves that barrel chests and excess testosterone are not politically deterministic? The very suggestion is cynical. It’s also a good idea, a way for Bloomberg to play moneyman while keeping his divisive face off of the posters.

If the hill in Everytown is steep, there’s one person who expresses lots of confidence. It’s Michael Bloomberg. “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed,” the ex-Mayor told the Times. “I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” Bloomberg should remember that the Christian church survived Rome without deep pockets, on the strength of charismatic standard-bearers whose respective escapes or martyrdoms fortified shared communities of peace and faith. Acolytes cannot gather around abstraction. With luck, Bloomberg will find his steps, and his mouthpiece.

Ted Scheinman
Ted Scheinman has written for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Slate, the Paris Review, the Oxford American Quarterly, and elsewhere. His first book of non-fiction will appear via Faber in 2014. Follow him on Twitter @Ted_Scheinman.

More From Ted Scheinman

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 26 • 4:00 PM

Turmoil at JPMorgan

Examiners are reportedly blocked from doing their job as “London Whale” trades blow up.


November 26 • 2:00 PM

Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad

Nepotism is alive and well, especially for the well-off.


November 26 • 12:00 PM

How Do You Make a Living, Taxidermist?

Taxidermist Katie Innamorato talks to Noah Davis about learning her craft, seeing it become trendy, and the going-rate for a “Moss Fox.”


November 26 • 10:28 AM

Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals’ actions pile up quickly.


November 26 • 10:13 AM

Honeybees Touring America


November 26 • 10:00 AM

Understanding Money

In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester explains how the monied people talk about their mountains of cash.


November 26 • 8:00 AM

The Exponential Benefits of Eating Less

Eating less food—whole food and junk food, meat and plants, organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO—would do a lot more than just better our personal health.


November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.



November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


Follow us


Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals' actions pile up quickly.

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.