Michael Bloomberg and America’s guns

By Bernd Debusmann
August 13, 2009

Bernd Debusmann— Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions are his own —

New York’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is stepping in where President Barack Obama fears to tread — confronting America’s powerful gun lobby. In the country that holds a commanding global lead in civilian gun ownership, it promises to be a hard fight.

No matter how it goes, America’s position at the top of the list of gun-owning nations looks secure. Up to 280 million guns are estimated to be in private hands and the arsenal is growing year by year. On a guns-per-capita basis, the United States (90 guns per 100 residents) is way ahead of second-ranked Yemen (61 per 100), according to the authoritative Small Arms Survey issued by the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.

Obama has been a sore disappointment for advocates of tighter gun controls, and a boon to gun manufacturers and dealers. Predictions that his administration would swiftly work towards greater restrictions helped spark a huge run on firearms after his election. The National Rifle Association (NRA), the country’s biggest gun lobby, said its members reported widespread shortages of ammunition.

Supply and demand are back in balance and those who rushed to stock up need not have feared an Obama assault on gun ownership. The president has shown no eagerness for stepping into the political minefield of gun legislation. On the contrary. Obama rowed back in haste after his attorney general, Eric Holder, prompted alarm among gun lovers by saying he wanted to reinstate a ban on assault weapons that was allowed to lapse under the Bush administration.

There are no signs either that Obama intends to fulfil campaign pledges on other hot-button gun legislation issues such as closing the so-called gun show loophole that allows private citizen-to-citizen sales without background checks, or the Tiahrt amendment, which limits disclosing information on the sale of guns used in crimes.

Josh Sugarmann, head of the Washington-based Violence Policy Center, a group advocating tighter controls, describes Obama’s attitude so far as “deeply disheartening” and says the president broke campaign promises on gun legislation.

Why? History provides an explanation: the last time the United States had a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, the party aggressively pushed gun control legislation and suffered crushing defeats at the polls, in part thanks to opposition stirred by the NRA. The Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 and held it until 2006.

Enter mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York, a city where he is popular and guns are not. In 2006, Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino formed Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), a group that wants to make it more difficult for criminals to get their hands on guns. MAIG’s growth has been explosive: from 15 in 2006 to 250 in 2007 to 451 now.

BATTLE OF GIANTS

That makes, as a headline in the Washington Post put it, for “a battle of goliaths” pitting Bloomberg and his group against the NRA, whose four million members tend to see restrictions such as unregulated sales from private citizens (through the gun show loophole) as an assault on the U.S. constitution’s second amendment.

It says: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Exactly what that means (arms for militia members? for individuals?) was one of the most passionately disputed legal questions in the United States for decades until the Supreme Court last year ruled that it gave individual Americans the right to bear arms. The court also allowed for some restrictions on gun ownership.

In July, the U.S. Senate defeated a measure, introduced by a Republican Senator, John Thune, that would have allowed licensed gun owners to carry hidden, loaded weapons from states with weak gun laws to states with tough ones. The proposal failed largely because of energetic lobbying by Bloomberg’s mayors. It was a rare setback for the NRA and Bloomberg made clear he would remain on the offensive.

“If you want to beat the NRA,” he said on a television show this week, “you have to go out and get your message out. And it costs money to do that … You know, the NRA doesn’t spend that much money. If you look at what the real numbers are, I think that we can pull together here and raise enough money.”

Bloomberg has spent almost $3 million of his own money (Forbes estimates his personal fortune at $16 billion) on the mayor’s group. The NRA’s annual budget is around $200 million.

For Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s Executive Vice President and CEO, talk about money is beside the point. “Bloomberg is clearly out of step with the majority of Americans,” he said in an interview. “Our membership has been increasing by 40,000 to 50,000 a month since the middle of last year. We hope to reach five million before too long.”

LaPierre is confident that the NRA will prevail in future legislative wrangling, not least because “there has been a sea change in the center of the Democratic Party.” Ironically, the vote that defeated the Thune amendment gives backing to that view. The bill required 60 votes to pass. It fell short by two. Of the 58 votes in favor, 20 were from Democrats. (Editing by Kieran Murray)

160 comments

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The Supreme Court did not give us the right for individual ownership of firearms in 2008—that right was granted in the original US Constitution (You know, those guys with white powdered wigs who wore knickers? Who were their fashion consultants?). The DC case basically ruled that the DC government was violating that fundamental right of the citizens of the District (the ones NOT committing crime, rather the potential unarmed victims). I would refer one to the voluminous discourse of the founders on the subject, and the historical documentation of the Crown’s attempts to control firearm ownership in the colonies prior to the American Revolution.

On a gut level, what does one do at midnight when a large stranger is looking in the patio window, seems oblivious to the four large dogs barking at him from the inside and decides to come in anyway? One shows him the business end of a .38 Special, as I did. He decided that I had the edge and vanished into the night.

Posted by Bigolfascist | Report as abusive

“Oh, No”, I hear the cry, “he’s back!”

Galasso
“There is some clamor in Great Britain currently about bringing back the right to bear arms due to the increasing crime problem, especially in the countryside.”

I am quite an avid follower of news and current affairs, and I have never heard of this. Furthermore I have never heard anyone even raise the idea that private ownership of guns is a solution to crime. If you are from the UK we must look at different sources of info. and move in different social circles. Guns and gun crime is so noticeable in the UK press because there is so little of it, and there are so few guns. I recall a drug dealer shooting a rival drug dealer in most US towns and cities is hardly worth a from page in the local paper, whilst in the UK it can make all the national papers and news channels.

I think perception of guns in society is crucial to this debate. In most mainstream (Hollywood) movies gun use is widespread, and crucially, often seen as the solution to a problem. Certainly for the blockbusters the cool, sexy, tough hero is the one who knows how to use a gun, and the nerd, the wimp, the coward or the comedy relief is the one who has never fired a weapon, and has to be shown, usually with a knowing smirk, what to do. Often final redemption is only achieved when the nerd overcomes their cowardice and joins the fray, sometimes even saving the hero. By this method they gain acceptance, prove their worth and none too subtly re-affirm that heroes use guns. I don’t think there can be anyone who would seriously argue this but just in case, feel free to run through the plotlines (a very loose use of the term) of the Die Hard & Lethal Weapon series, Dirty Harrys, etc.

Before this we have the western, and here I think we find a reflection of the need American society has to see itself as different from others, with perhaps more noble a purpose. It is true that every society is different, just as every region and person is. Nations can be stereotyped, and sometimes those stereotypes are propagated and celebrated as a source of pride. A number of posts have mentioned the difference in American psyche, geography, and most seem (subconsciously or not) to hark back to those frontier plainsmen, masters of the wide open spaces, simple but honest, ready to help the weak and punish the oppressor, invariably with a gun in their hand.

Now we know that the cowboy of popular culture is almost exclusively derived from pulp fiction written by easterners in the 1800′s. In fact there were very few Cowboys as a proportion of the total population, and as their name implies, they were cattle wranglers, doing a tough, backbreaking job in appalling conditions for very little compensation. The proportion of gun ownership amongst this group was not as high as fiction would imply either, simply because a gun was still an expensive purchase and had limited functionality when compared to a knife.

I mentioned in my original post the insular view of the world which many Americans have. This is undoubtedly due to the size of the place, which means there is often a lot of national news to pack in at the expense of world events, and the island mentality which comes from have so few borders, and no potential rival nations (sorry Canada and Mexico). One poster Cory Hine claimed
“One of the reasons that the US has never been invaded, is the fact that the invaders would face a rifle behind every blade of grass”

I would suggest that the military strength of the US throughout the last centaury, the slight issue of staging an invasion across several thousand miles of ocean and the problem of MAD were more relevant to the military strategists than the fear that a duck hunter would be taking pot shots at them. This is not to say that this was not the case at the time the Constitution was drawn up, and, as a new nation with huge borders and a fragile unity, the need to respond to a potential threat in some distant location would quite conceivably require a militia to act as the Army pro tem. Also, there was a level of suspicion and mistrust between the states themselves, and the Constitution and its amendments recognised that a state could call upon its citizenry at short notice to form a state militia to defend itself against neighbouring states.

My point is that, yes America is a unique country, as is every other nation on earth. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, traits and traditions. However, all nations change and develop, as society grows and matures. No one (I hope) now thinks that slavery is acceptable, and what was once seen as sensible and expedient is now generally abhorrent. Racism, sexism, religious intolerance, were all at one time or another enshrined in law in most developed nations. As we have grown as a global society we have been able to modify our views and therefore our laws to reflect this, and it seems discordant therefore that, with the progress the US has made in all other areas, the issue of gun control still seems, in many cases to hark back to another era which in all probability did not even exist.

Final point. Drew; I am touched, almost a compliment in there! Now that we have bonded, next time I am in Canada I will know where to look you up for a visit. I will make sure I give you plenty of warning though, as I would not want to show up on your doorstep unannounced. I would guess that the house will in any case be surrounded by furious gun control supporters, shaking their fist ineffectually at you in the absence of anything stronger with which to overcome your superior firepower!

Posted by pete | Report as abusive

Drew–
Did you actually read my original post, or jump to the conclusion that, based upon its title, the essay must necessarily espouse gun control? Read it again, and understand that the author is vehemently pro gun, and so am I. I am baffled that as an advocate of firearm rights, you would fail to recognize that the author effectively contradicts just about every argument in favor of gun control made by the anti-gun establishment over the last 20 years. And I’m the moron? Who is calling the kettle black here? And Galasso, the article doesn’t suggest gun bans have worked in Washington D.C., but quite the opposite: Just across the Potomac River, the State of Virginia has no gun control and a murder rate of 1.6 per 100,000, while Washington D.C. has one of the highest murder rates in the country. Pay attention!

Posted by Carol Winters | Report as abusive

I think you are all missing the point.

The founding fathers did not award the right to keep & bear arms the status of #2 in the bill of RIGHTS, as a crime deterent, a self defence measure or even a subsistance method, although arms have sure come in handy on all of those accounts.

Rather they knew from sad experience, long and bitter, that the right of the people to throw off a government that has become odious & offensive to them, is what must be preserved and THAT was the original intent of the phrase.

It is imperative to our freedom and liberty that our government always know, that it’s people have the will and the means to throw it off or change it if things come to the point where liberty is in peril & civil means to preserve it fail.

It is, in fact, our duty.

Simply we must not and cannot have a society where only the “authorities” and the government are armed.

In the words of Thomas Paine: “Arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property… Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them. ”
Thomas Paine

It is this balance that we wrestle with. We need our government to secuire our liberty, but that same government cannot always be assumed to be virtuous, so the governed must retain the ability to ensure that it’s government remembers its true place.

And it is this that I believe the liberal mentality either truly fears or misunderstands.

I can’t believe that the ani-gun lobby are so abysmally dim that they miss the 800 lb gorilla in this entire discussion.

That being, that if you pass rigid gun control, two things will happen.

1. Law abiding citizens will be faced with a choice; become a criminal by keeping his guns anyway or disarming. Thus, the law abiding person must chose to become prey to the uncivilized criminal or become a criminal himself at best and at worst, a slave to a government that no longer respects him.

2. As legal arms disappear, illegal arms traffic will increase. A black market will arise and the government will have no more luck stopping it than it does illegal immigrants or tons of dope and drugs.

Foregin arms makers will reap the windfall, law abiding Americans will become defensless.

Since the anti gun minds must see this, and I can’t believe they don’t, I am left with the simple suspicion that they themsevles have nefarious motives or are very naive, either of which chill this patriot to the bone.

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

Jim–
Well said.

Posted by Carol Winters | Report as abusive

Pete,

Your continued insistance on the use of misleading phrases like, “greater chance of being killed with a gun” is bad enough (the issue is whether or not gun ownership in a society correlates with more/less violence and murder, not murder via a specific implement. If I take away your gun and you then stab someone to death instead of shooting them, is society the better for it?) But then you pull the following nonsense:

- “I am not quite sure why you adopt such an aggressive tone, but I have tried to avoid silly personal attacks, as they serve no purpose and invariably make the accuser look the fool.”

I have been neither aggressive nor have I engaged in ANY personal attacks on you. The hypocrisy your false accusation juxtaposed with the last phrase is most ironic, however.

Posted by Dan Parker | Report as abusive

Pete said….

“Guns and gun crime is so noticeable in the UK press because there is so little of it, and there are so few guns.”

LOL! You still don’t get it, do you? Is the ultimate goal to simply reduce *gun crime* specifically, or crime overall? If the former, well then…congratulations. Does that mean that one should be proud of the current dramatic increase in the London murder rate simply because almost none of those murders were committed with a firearm?

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/artic le-530290-details/Murder+rate+hits+almos t+one+a+day/article.do

“In recent weeks, detectives in high-profile murder inquiries, such as the case of the boy battered and then burned to death in Kingsbury…”

Whew. Good thing he wasn’t shot. That would have been tragic.

Posted by Dan Parker | Report as abusive

This is for Sharrratt–and everyone else!

Benjamin Franklin’s exact quote:

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

Posted by Dev Poster | Report as abusive

The argument that an armed population would be helpless against the arms of the military sounds feasable except for one important FACT..In America,the Military is composed of Citizens of America..When joining the military,each person is sworned to protect America from Foriegn and Domestic Enemies.They are also sworn to not obey an Unlawful Order..Any order,that commands the military to fire on American Citizens is an unlawful order,even if it comes from the Commander-in-Chief..Some Military may be reluctant to dis-obey the President,but they would be set straight by their Comrades..In all probability,the Military would oust the president that tried to order the Military to fire on the Citizenery…The first half of my adult life was serving my country in the military..during that time,I had to reaffirm my Sacred Oath every four years..Because of his written words and the reputations of his mentors,Obama is the only President that I am scared of..Hopefully,the Military wouldn’t become so propagandized that they would forget their Sacred Oaths if some situation occurred where Obama would try to Order the Military to Fire on Americans..

Posted by jacgar | Report as abusive

The MAIG, Mayors Against Illegal Guns would be more aptly named Mayors Against Firearms In America. This sham organization pretends to be only against illegal guns, but they really are about the suppression of a fundamental, enumerated, and incorporated civil right. In New York state there is a ban on the mere possession of a handgun for any out of state resident. That’s right, a ban. The rash of recent arrests aren’t new, they are just being reported more lately.

No matter how law-abiding or compliant, one may not even possess a locked, unloaded, registered handgun in NY state without a state permit, and it is not issued to out-of-state residents. That’s a ban for 98% of Americans. And mere possession is a felony.

The US Supreme court has recently struck two bans, in DC and in Chicago. Second Amendment jurisprudence is in it’s relative infancy, so it will take awhile, but in a few years, any non-prohibited person will be able to carry (bear) arms for self defense in all but the most sensitive places, such as courthouses and the secure areas of airports.

This is how it’s done in most of the country, and licensed concealed permit holders have proven overwhelmingly that they may be trusted with the right. They are a group so law-abiding, that firearms misuse among them is statistically incalculable.

Time to get with the program, NY, NJ, IL. Wake up, the Second Amendment is alive and well in most of the rest of the country, It works perfectly well as designed, if you let it.

Posted by mystroh | Report as abusive