Bill Gates is opening up his considerable piggy bank in Silicon Valley’s fight against the National Rifle Association. The Microsoft billionaire donated $1 million to Initiative 594, which will require criminal background checks for firearm sales.

Gates joins a long line of high-profile activists in the fighting the powerful gun lobby. Michael Bloomberg’s plans post mayoral duties include large campaigns for gun control. Noted Facebook investor Ron Conway has made gun reform his signature political cause, championing hackathons to prevent gun violence and spearheading a venture project for innovative anti-violence technology.

For Gates, this may be a simple donation, or the start of something much larger. When he entered education reform, he didn’t just give loads of money. The Chronicle of Higher Education found an extensive, and somewhat hidden, network of policy organizations to push reform through courts, local communities, and national policy. When all was added up, his foundation spent nearly half a billion dollars ($472 million) as of July 2013.

It remains to be seen whether Silicon Valley can fight the NRA, which has won nearly every national political battle, even after mass shootings. On immigration reform, a similar contingent of well-heeled technologists have so far failed in their push for Congress’s comprehensive immigration bill.

As for gun reform, background checks are a very popular, with over 90 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of Republicans in support. So, that’s promising for gun reform advocates. But, if history is a guide, it will be an uphill battle, even with millions in Silicon Valley support.


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