Gun dealer’s son versus the NRA

Greg Nash

Five months after the Senate dealt a major blow to President Obama’s gun control agenda, Mark Glaze makes it clear the battle is far from over.

The executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns is making his case to the press on a recent Thursday morning. From there, he’s racing to the White House for a meeting with Vice President Biden’s chief of staff, Bruce Reed. Then he’s got to prepare for his trip to Colorado, where New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), the group’s co-founder, is spending $350,000 to stop Tuesday’s NRA-inspired recall of two state legislators who voted for gun restrictions in March.

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It’s all in a day’s work for the 42-year-old head of an association that has emerged as the National Rifle Association’s biggest foe.

“Stopping the NRA in its tracks, where it’s gutting laws that make sense both in Congress and in the states, is job No. 1,” Glaze said in a recent interview with The Hill.

Bloomberg formed Mayors Against Illegal Guns seven years ago, along with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, to showcase how elected officials can run and win on gun control. After working for the group for a couple of years as an outside lobbyist, Glaze took over the organization shortly before the January 2011 Tucson, Ariz., shooting that injured former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed six others.

The group, which now boasts more than 1,000 members and 1.5 million grassroots supporters, has launched a multipronged strategy that includes lobbying, research, media outreach, public campaigns and leveraging Bloomberg’s $25 billion fortune.

“These are all the necessary ingredients to changing the way Congress treats the issue,” Glaze said.

He has the ideal background to take on the NRA.

The son of a licensed gun dealer from Colorado, he grew up steeped in the nation’s gun culture deep in hunting and ranching country. He attended high school in Pueblo and moved on to Colorado College, a progressive liberal arts school in El Paso County.

“Two of the places I spent the most time as a kid are now ground zero for the recall efforts that the National Rifle Association and others are focused on,” he said.

Glaze had planned to go for his Ph.D. but changed tack after a 1994 internship with former Rep. David Skaggs (D-Colo.). Fascinated by politics and convinced of the need for Democrats to forge alliances with the other side at the height of the Newt Gingrich era, Glaze headed for law school at George Washington University.

After a couple years working for what he calls a “soul-crushing law firm” in New York City, Glaze returned to Washington, and in April 2002, became one of first employees of the Campaign Legal Center. He ended up running the communications program for the campaign finance reform organization and was on its legal team when the Supreme Court upheld the McCain-Feingold act’s ban on “soft money” contributions in the face of a challenge by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), now the Senate minority leader.

Glaze credits his years with the center for teaching him how to build support for reforms that have broad bipartisan appeal but face powerful interest groups on the other side. Working with the center’s founder, Trevor Potter, who was the legal counsel for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during his 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns, he got a first-class education in Washington’s power levers.

“I was always kind of fascinated by the mix of things you need to do to make anything happen,” he said. “You need to know the players, the personalities, the policy, the law, the interest groups and the media.”

Glaze sees similarities between the post-Watergate era, when voters clamored for cleaner politics and ushered in a new class of elected officials pushing campaign finance reform, and the recent rash of mass shootings, particularly the Newtown, Conn., shooting last December that left 20 children and six educators dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“When you have a couple of dozen people murdered in the space of minutes, it rivets the public’s attention on a problem that they see in miniature every day but did not have a reason to think of the sheer scope of the problem.”

Since the Sandy Hook shooting, Glaze’s group has redoubled its efforts to paint the NRA as out of touch with the American public and even its own membership. He said about 90 percent of Americans support background checks of the kind the Senate defeated in a 54-46 vote in April, including 74 percent of NRA members. But the gun lobby itself, he said, has become extreme.

“The business model of the industry has to be to sell more and more guns to the same set of people, in fact, a set of people that is shrinking,” he said. “To do that, they have regrettably gotten into the business of creating fear and anxiety where none need exist.”

The NRA says it’s looking out for gun-lovers’ Second Amendment rights. The gun lobby has described Mayors Against Illegal Guns as a deceptively “anti-gun” organization to foist Bloomberg’s “nanny state” agenda on the country.

“Beholden to nothing except his own ambitions, the mayor has established himself as a kind of national gun-control vigilante,” the NRA wrote in the April 2007 issue of its news magazine, America’s 1st Freedom.

Glaze said the gun control movement is ascendant despite the Senate vote.

Bloomberg’s vast personal fortune has helped: The mayor spent $8.1 million last year through his Independence USA political action committee to defeat pro-NRA lawmakers, such as Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), succeeding in three out of six races. Earlier this year he spent $2.2 million to ensure Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) beat former Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.) for the seat vacated by former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

On the other side of the ledger, Glaze said he has personally pressed Democratic donors in places like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to make guns an issue next time Democrats from rural states come calling. In June, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) canceled a fundraiser after Bloomberg asked hundreds of donors to shun him and the other three Democrats who voted against background checks: Max Baucus (Mont.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.).

“Politics being what it is,” he said, “when you have the attention of people who have money and fund campaigns, you really have got your hands on one of the final pieces of the puzzle to changing an issue.”

The group is also spreading its message across the country.

A “No More Names” bus bearing the names of the thousands of Americans killed by guns since the Sandy Hook shooting has toured 25 states and arrives in Washington, D.C., in the next few weeks. And the group is pushing states to adopt tougher background checks, with recent victories in Colorado, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland and New York.

The top issue remains federal background check legislation, Glaze said. His group is also pushing to give the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives more resources to regulate gun laws.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” he said. “We have had some victories, and they’re starting to accelerate. There will be some setbacks, and some of them will hurt. But sooner than people think, the gun lobby is going to realize that you can’t ask elected officials to deny 90 percent of the public forever.”