WASHINGTON — Nearly two weeks after the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the nation’s outspoken gun control advocates, is unimpressed with the political fallout.
The mayor has been on a media blitz following the massacre, in which suspected shooter James Holmes allegedly killed 12 people and injured dozens of others in a crowded movie theater. And at each of Bloomberg’s stops, the message has been the same: It is time for detailed plans and a concerted effort to address gun violence.
But save for support from the usual suspects, Bloomberg has been met with silence. At a time when President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney can manufacture fights and outrage over the most trivial of matters, they’ve come to an informal détente on guns. New laws, each has argued, aren’t needed.
Not one accustomed to being dismissed or ignored, Bloomberg lashed back in a phone interview with The Huffington Post on Wednesday.
“I don’t think there’s anybody, any rational person, that seriously could argue that what we have and the way we enforce it prohibits carnage,” he said. “There’s 34 people killed every single day [nationwide]. We’ve killed more than 400,000 Americans since 1968, when RFK and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated. That is more Americans than died during WWII. So the argument that we can do with existing laws and stop this is just preposterous. It isn’t worth having a discussion about.”
A co-chair of the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Bloomberg’s proposal for additional gun control legislation is, in the context of what’s been done in the past, fairly limited. He’s called for a federal requirement that background checks be done at gun shows so that no one with a criminal record or history of mental health issues is able to purchase firearms. In addition, he’s advocated for updated and more streamlined databases on gun ownership and purchases so that various law enforcement agencies can work together more seamlessly.
The Obama administration has made strides on the latter issue. But in the wake of Aurora, the president’s first step was to concede that new laws and requirements — even those that he supports — would simply be too difficult to pass in the current political climate. Romney, for his part, has declared that he opposes new gun control legislation.
“It shows you the power of an irrational single advocacy group,” Bloomberg said, giving a nod to the effectiveness of the gun lobby to bottle up legislation before it’s even debated. “What makes them effective is they’ve created this aura that they are so powerful, if you don’t go with them, they’ll take you out and destroy your ability to feed your family.”
And so, part of Bloomberg’s task, as a vocal figure behind the gun control movement, is not just to advocate legislation but to change the culture around the Second Amendment. He categorically dismissed the idea of using his own political future to do that, with, perhaps, a run for the White House.
“Well, I’m not a loser and couldn’t win, and I’m committed to being mayor of New York City, so I’m not doing this to run for president,” said Bloomberg.
“[New York Times columnist] Tom Friedman, who’s my golfing buddy — who, sometimes I say, you’re going to have to give me more strokes because of your crazy ideas — his idea is you run to shape the dialogue,” he said. “Just remember that I can, anytime I want, talk to you, write an op-ed piece, and do those kinds of things that are a lot cheaper than running for office.”
Instead, Bloomberg argued, he could lend his political imprimatur to those lawmakers who bucked the NRA. His recent endorsement of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), he says, was done with that in mind: a political reward for Brown’s opposition to a bill that would force states to respect each other’s concealed weapons laws.
“Even though he is wrong on all the other gun issues, that was so important that for his support, he has earned my support this election,” said Bloomberg. “That doesn’t mean I’ll support him ever again. But you know, you have to go and support those who would vote the way you like them to vote, otherwise they’re never gonna do it.”
But Brown is just one senator. And Bloomberg’s cachet can only be extended to so many lawmakers willing to stick their necks out on gun laws. In the end, the mayor conceded, a much broader movement with more money behind it is needed to convince lawmakers, from the president on down, that they won’t be hurt by operating outside the limits of “existing law.”
“It is probably true that you could create a liberal equivalent of the NRA or Grover Norquist,” he said, in reference to the anti-tax disciplinarian. “But nobody’s done it yet, and when they’ve tried to do it, it hasn’t really worked.”
“Now, why does Fox News work and MSNBC doesn’t? I don’t know. I’ve asked people,” Bloomberg continued. “I think somebody that really understands television like [Fox News’] Roger Ailes would say that one side is more committed than the other. I don’t know if that’s true. But I’ve always thought to myself, if you could hire Roger Ailes, pay him 100 billion dollars, and say, ‘Hey, go create left wing television.’ Could he do it? And I think yes, he would.”