Atlantic Cities
Democracy in America

What's the Story Behind That Gun-Violence Super Bowl Ad?

The Super Bowl is a time when temperatures in America tend to get heated. Whether it's hundreds of Patriots fans rioting in Amherst or two men shot dead at Super Bowl parties – including a party host in Longwood, Fla., who got it in the back – game day seems to inspire all-consuming rage in a certain slice of the populace.

So it was perhaps fitting to see, amid the Super Bowl ads for Hondas and Coke, a political spot railing against the gun violence that is estimated to wipe out 34 Americans every day. Sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the ad featured New York City's Michael Bloomberg and Boston's Thomas Menino urging “commonsense reforms” in the nation's gun laws. There was also a bit of subliminal team messaging from each mayor – take a look:



The ad, which aired in the Washington, D.C. region and represented a “six-figure buy,” according to Bloomberg spokesman Marc LaVorgna, had a measure of success. “It's got 50,000 views on YouTube already and got a ton of action on Twitter,” says LaVorgna. “It's certainly drawn a lot of media attention – Meet the Press aired it” in full.

The history of Super Bowl advertising is dotted with players who come sailing in from left field with unlikely messages – anybody remember the wonderful Cash4Gold ad of 2009? – only to quickly disappear from the public spotlight. So will that be the story with these Mayors Against Illegal Guns?

At first glance, it doesn't appear so. The non-profit coalition has shown staying power: Formed in 2006 by a handful of mayors hoping to stop the influx of illegal guns into their cities, it has since grown to include more than 600 mayors. It functions with the backing of significant donors such as Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Broad Foundation, as well as a web of individuals who made 1,600 private donations in 2011.

In terms of accomplishments, the coalition has persuaded Walmart to adopt a “Responsible Firearms Retailer Partnership” in which gun sales are videotaped and buyers' IDs thoroughly vetted for fakery. It has helped chart the pipeline of the illegal-gun network, finding that states with the laxest gun-control laws “infect” neighboring states with deadly contraband, for instance, and that the top states for illegal exports are West Virginia, Mississippi and South Carolina.

The group also put together this video featuring survivors from the 2011 Tucson massacre, which is pretty heart-rending:

Though it wasn't mentioned in the Super Bowl ad, the group is presently focused on tightening the background criminal-check process for gun sales. That would mean forcing every state in the nation to require a check, as well getting “all of the names of people who should be prohibited from buying guns into the background check system.”

The latter measure might have prevented Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho, who had a history of mental illness, from obtaining his lethal weapons, says LaVorgna. “We want to see a background check for all gun sales because it takes 90 seconds – it's quick, it's easy and 80 percent of gun owners support it.”

John Metcalfe is a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

Join the Discussion