TODAY   |  April 16, 2014

Bloomberg on NRA challenge: 'Not a battle of dollars'

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, join TODAY's Savannah Guthrie exclusively to discuss their new initiative, which seeks to gain support for stricter gun control.

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>>> in the wake of the tragic school shooting in newtown , connecticut, president obama vowed to tighten gun laws in america, but so far, he has been unable to accomplish that goal. now former new york city mayor michael bloomberg is forming a new group just announced this morning to gain support for stricter gun control . we're going to have an exclusive live interview with him in a moment, but first, here's nbc's white house correspondent peter alexander .

>> reporter: the headlines are hauntingly familiar. just this week, three dead in a kansas city suburb.

>> another tragic shooting at ft. hood.

>> reporter: for the second time in five years, a shooting spree at this military base in texas. they joined communities already scarred into our memories. tucson, aurora, and newtown , where a 20-year-old with a history of mental health issues used his mother's guns to kill 20 children and six adults at sandy hook elementary.

>> these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children.

>> reporter: president obama pushed to tighten gun laws here with savannah one year ago.

>> these families are in the midst of their grief. it's right now. do you feel personally responsible to them?

>> i feel personally responsible the same way i hope every parent out there feels responsible for all our kids. every once in a while , we are confronted with an issue that should transcend politics.

>> reporter: despite the presidential efforts --

>> there will be order in the senate.

>> reporter: the senate blocked a measure to crack down on access to guns. former new york city mayor michael bloomberg has made it his mission and dedicated his money to support candidates who back stronger gun restrictions. now his latest move, $50 million, in part for those candidates, and a new organization, every town for gun safety , which brings together the work of several groups, including his mayors against illegal guns . the nra declined to comment, but steadfastly opposes tighter restrictions on guns. insisting that wouldn't be an effective tool at preventing mass killings. instead of lobbying and expensive tv ads, bloomberg's new group will focus on outreach, specifically to women and mothers with powerful online videos . trying to change the fierce gun debate in ways even tragedy has not. for "today," peter alexander , nbc news, washington.

>> and mayor michael bloomberg is with us now exclusively. he is the chairman of every town for gun safety . and shannon watts, the founder of moms demand action, part of this new initiative. good morning to both of you. mr. mayor, i'll start with a simple question. you had a tragedy like newtown . everybody was horrified by. you had a major presidential push. it went nowhere. why will you succeed where no one else has been able to.

>> well, number one, it didn't go nowhere. we have 16 states that at a state level have instituted background checks on gun shows and internet sales and there are a couple more about to do the same thing. a number of states have passed referendums on domestic violence and weapons, so we really are making progress. and we did get 55 out of 100 senators, a bipartisan group, to vote for this bill.

>> but you know this is a political heavy lift . you're putting $50 million into the effort.

>> look, it's a heavy political lift. 31,000 americans either get murdered or commit suicide with illegal guns. that's the heavy lift .

>> shannon , you got involved when you saw what happened in newtown . you were a stay-at-home mom who watched and you were outraged. why do you think the moms are key? because that seems to be central to this strategy.

>> you know, in many ways, this is about emotion. as i said before, you know, the gun lobby has done a good job over the last 30 years of making a local minority afraid people will take their guns away. as a mother, i'm afraid someone's going to take my children away. i believe at the end of the day , that emotion will carry it.

>> mr. mayor, you've been pretty blunt about this, saying essentially this new group is going to borrow a page from the nra 's playbook. the nra has been very successful in frightening lawmakers who oppose them, saying we'll punish you at the ballot box . you're quoted in "the new york times" this morning saying we have to make them afraid of us.

>> absolutely. people will vote for whatever they think is in their own self-interest to get elected and re-elected. we've got to convince them that 80% of gun owners , 90% of americans who are favor of simple background checks to make sure criminals, minors and people with psychiatric problems can't buy guns. common sense. we've got to make them understand that that's what the public wants.

>> going back to the 50 million. it's not a small number . it's not pocket change , even for you. is it a matter of simply outspending the nra , which by the way this sum would?

>> well, i don't know who's going to -- this is not a battle of dollars. this is a battle for the hearts and minds of america so that we can protect our children, protect innocent people. if you take a look at the number of people who use illegal guns to commit suicide , a number of people that are killed every year, we're the only civilized country in the world that has this problem. we have to do something. if you want to do how tough this is, go to one of the funerals and you look at the parents, look in their eyes and you'll see what real tragedy is and why we really have to do something.

>> and yet we see this cycle over and over again. we've seen so many of these tragedies. if you look at the polling right now, people do get angry around these big tragic events. but it is not a priority for most americans . they put gun control near the bottom of the list when asked to rank what issues matter most to them. you've got 49% of americans right now who favor stricter gun laws . but that's down almost 10% since newtown , shannon .

>> we are going to go out and educate moms and women and americans over the next several months before the midterms. we're committing to get at least one million americans to vote on this issue. right now, women vote on abortion, health care , and jobs. we want that to be gun violence prevention, gun violence prevention.

>> and it isn't gun control . this is making sure that everybody agrees that people should not be allowed to buy a gun, criminals, minors and people with psychiatric problems. nobody's going to take anybody's gun away. nobody's going to keep you from hunting or target practice or protecting yourself. it's just making sure that a handful of people who we all agree shouldn't have guns don't get their hands on them.

>> this all begs the question, we know you're not afraid to get into the political fray. we know you're not afraid to put a little money behind the effort. people do wonder perennially about every four years actually whether you would consider a run for president.

>> no is the answer. plain and simple. i'm going to spend the rest of my life trying to make a better world for myself, for my kids, for my grandchildren, and for you and shannon .

>> do you think there is a time that this may be a time for a third party candidate? do you think the two- party system is failing americans on issues like this?

>> they may be failing americans , but this is a two-party country and i think it's unlikely that you would ever have a third party candidate that could win, so what we have to do is convince those in both the parties who are running that this is what the american public wants, and when they get through their primaries and they come to a general election , they're going to have to be right on guns and we're going to do everything we can, shannon and i and all the people that we represent to make sure that we reward those who are protecting lives and make sure that those who are trying to keep people from being protected lose elections.

>> thank you so much for being here. do you miss being mayor?

>> no.

>> okay. i won't say whether the feeling is mutual. i have no idea. former new york city mayor michael bloomberg and shannon watts, thank you for being here.