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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I have no strong feelings about weapons, per se. They\’re tools. Tools of a very particular sort, granted. Still, merely tools.

That said, the characteristic debate is reflective of many of the limitations of democracy, in which the task of \’elites\’ becomes pandering to the lowest common denominators and baser instincts — fear perhaps chief amongst them — in human nature, and of the particularly naive and atavistic characteristics of contemporary American culture.

It\’s sad that the society which first brought to the world many of the finest notions of the modern nation state is reduced to longing for past glory at any of a number of levels, and is completely unable to move forward in a changing world.

Perhaps Swift was too kind in his depiction of the Yahoos. Then again, he hadn\’t contemporary American \’civilization\’ as a source of inspiration.

Let them clutch their guns. They have only the night and their own fears to comfort them in the course of their long, sorry, and sadly inevitable descent.

Posted by Not Silent Not Bob's Dog | Report as abusive

Stan:
I dont understand how can you believe that the Democratic party is moving to the center based on the last few elections. Now more than ever I believe that the leaders of the democratic party are pro-big government, pro-socialim, pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, anti-gun, pro-illegal immigrants, etc. In my opinion, most of these positions put the Democratic Party as far as they can be from what our forefathers intended this nation to be. The bible is against homosexual relationships and most churches are against abortion (remember thou shall not kill?). Did you know that the Pope didnt allow Nanci Pelosi to be photographed with him. The reason, because she supports gay marriage and abortion, and both are big NO-NOs under true Christianity. All the other top leaders of your party are also on the same bandwagon. Your Democratic President hasnt done anything (yet) about guns, but he did say that he wouldnt mind renewing the so called “Assault Weapons” bill; even though this bill didnt include a single TRUE assault weapon (i.e.-machine gun). ALL the weapons banned by this bill were semi-automatic weapons. I am sorry, but if you care about guns and church, the last place you should be looking at is the Democratic Party.

Posted by Henry | Report as abusive

Stan: The democratic party is coming back to its roots of being pro-church? Are you off your medication? The leadership of the democratic party is vigorously, viciously, vehemently opposed to religion in general and Christianity in particular. The party tries its best to ignore those with religious faith. If they must address them, they seek to undermine the teaching of the church using religious language. In private, among the like-minded, their contempt for religious belief is striking. I find it incomprehensible that anyone can actually believe the thought you expressed. I guess you can always fool some of the people.

Posted by Greg | Report as abusive

“CURRENT KILLING ZONES

New York: 571 (down 26 on previous year)

Los Angeles: 511 (down 5)

Chicago: 447 (down 151)

Baltimore: 276 (up 7)

Washington: 198 (down 50)

St Louis: 114 (up 40)

Boston: 62 (up 21)

Also down: Philadelphia, Miami and Las Vegas

The record: New York’s 2,245 in 1990

New York’s murder rate per person: 6.9 per 100,000, making it it the safest large city in America

London’s murder rate per person: 2.4 per 100,000″

Nice try, but the last two numbers are per 100,000, whereas the first ones are absolute. Bad liberal, bad!

Posted by Andrew | Report as abusive

crooks don,t care about gun laws. I will protect myself and family from these crooks that Blomdeburger wants to empower. He’ll kill off lawabidding gunowners by making them powerless. He’s got his head stuck up his okoele. How many bodyguards with guns protect him?

Posted by GD Hilo | Report as abusive

Hey Americans Why stop at assault rifles I think that you all should have the right to own an Abrams tank . After all why shot the person when you can blow him away. If you look at the statistics 90% of gun owners kill their families and themselves so keep buying guns it’s the only stock in my portfolio that is doing well.

Posted by Chase | Report as abusive

Quote: 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?)

Seriously? Quite trying to mislead people. Put away your dictionaries and encyclopedias – they don’t matter. When you need to define something in the Constitution more than it is defined there, you refer to the United States Code.

In this case, the question is “What is the militia?”

The answer can be found in the United States Code, Title 10, Chapter 13, Section 311:

Sec. 311. Militia: composition and classes

(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.
(b) The classes of the militia are –
(1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and
(2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.

http://uscode.house.gov/download/pls/10C 13.txt

Soooo……If you are, or have declared your intention to become, a US Citizen, are male and between the ages of 17 and 45 years, and are “able-bodied” (the only really ‘loose’ term in the section) and are not a vet (we’re liable for Militia service to the age of 65), then you are in the Militia…and per US vs. Miller, 1939 http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/ge tcase.pl?navby=CASE&court=US&vol=307&pag e=174 there is a clear delineation stating that the 2nd Amendment applies ONLY to firearms wit a “military utility” – in effect, pretty much anything that goes “BANG!”

Now, I’m not a lawyer – I’m just a schlump. Why is it so difficult for people to simply look up the relevant laws? And that especially means lawyers and reporters – c/mon, people! This is BASIC RESEARCH!

Posted by Where's my 'tini at? | Report as abusive

It’s Sugarmann, not Sugarman. What’s the matter with you guys? You can’t afford proofreaders?

Posted by anymouse | Report as abusive

More people are killed each year by medical mistakes and malpractice than by firearms. Why not outlaw Doctors? Or motor vehicle collisions.. Outlaw cars next?
Guns don’t kill people… People kill people. Guns are just a tool. like a scalpel or a 4000 lb. hunk of metal on wheels. It’s the intent of the human being using the tool.

Posted by Brendan | Report as abusive

Now more than ever,Americans should be Armed..The Police are helpless in preventing home invasions..
the Police have never prevented any crime.they only can be effective post crime and regulating Traffic.BUT,the main reason for having a gun is to protect Democracy in America..No country with Armed Citizens have ever had their Democracy over thrown..Obama[during the election] said he needs a Presidential Police Force,where he would be the Commander.[This may be hearsay from the Net]Maybe,now that He is the President,he probably feels that since he has TOTAL control over the FBI,CIA,Secret Service and His Chicago Mafia Enforcers,PLUS A LAP DOG CONGRESS ,he might wait until he can totally disarm America..AMERICANS SHOULD STAY ALERT!THESE ARE SCARY TIMES..Maniacs that shoot up schools and malls would use bombs if they couldn’t get guns..

Posted by jack garnett | Report as abusive

Maybe have a look north of the border, if you even know where Canada is… Very very low gun violence. Where the violence does occur are guns illegally smuggle from the U.S.

The fact is Americans don’t need the Thune agreement. All States signed the U.S. Constitution. Conceal carry permits, licenses, are all infringements- which are illegal according to the highest law of the land. And secondarily, the Federal government handing out licenses for all 50 states subverts states privileges. It’s a bad idea all around. It just happens to make the socialists think they’ve won something.

So while Bloomberg repeatedly breaks actual Federal law investigating gun shops in other states, the rest of us get to wonder where the hell these people come from.

The purpose, and most of you posting have missed it, of gun ownership in America is to overthrow tyrannical government. You know, just like how America was founded in the first place. Guns are a tool to keep governments in line with the law. And part and parcel of that is the self-defense of your life. Even bacteria defends itself. But somehow socialists think it’s sane to give society control over their very existence. No. Not this American. Not ever.

And that’s all it is kids. Guns are to keep the government from doing harm and reaching outside of that fireplace called the U.S. Constitution. End.

Posted by JAG | Report as abusive

Why do we need more legislation. Citizens don’t need more laws to restrict their freedoms. PUT CRIMINALS IN JAIL!!! Oh wait, Attornies can’t afford such things!

Posted by the1 | Report as abusive

There is no such thing as a “gunshow loophole”. It’s a contrived, made-up political term to infer a breaking of some “law”. Gun sales between private individuals are legal, whether done at a private home or on the grounds of a gunshow. Please try to educate yourselves before posting as “experts”. Thanks!

As an Englishman, I am often amazed and saddened by the world view of the US which the opinions of its citizens promote.

First, to set my stall out, I love the US. Has been my chosen holiday destination for over 20 years, and, along with Tokyo, New York is my favourite city of any I have visited.

However, the US is an amazingly insular society. Perhaps because of its size and sociological diversity, and there is often so little understanding of what the world is like outside of those borders. Comments such as those on this thread, when looked at by the rest of the world, paint a picture of hillbillies and NIMBY’s, where prejudice is always preferred to logic, and change is unpatriotic. In fact, as anyone who spends any time with you and your countrymen will know, America is one of the most welcoming and accommodating societies in the world.

There is however a real division between the individual view of acceptance and tolerance which I have encountered in my travels over the years and a need to be seen to be bigoted and narrow minded, as is the theme of most of the entries in this thread. The closest I can equate it to is the darkest days of the soviet era, when conversations in private discussed openly the Governments failures, whilst at the same time those same people would in public pursue the party line with almost maniacal zeal.

The facts of the ratio of gun ownership to violent death in countries around the world are there to be seen. If American citizens believe that, despite the fact that they are more likely to be shot an any other citizen of a first world country, they are safer because of the weapons they stockpile, then that is fine, but I do wish that the moderate American, the sensible and thoughtful intellectual, could also have a voice in these discussions, without being shouted down as “Un-American” or “Unpatriotic”.

Posted by Pete | Report as abusive

To jack, who believes that no democracy has ever been overthrown when citizens own guns. I have news for you cupcake, this ain’t a democracy, it’s become an oligarchy–our nation is led by the nose by corporate interests. While they inflame you to worry about guns and robbers and demonize without listennig those who suggest (rightly or wrongly) to limit certain guns in crime violent cities, corporations buy government to make laws in their favor and mop up (do you know how much private contractors made in Iraq? Or, how about the bank bailouts that WE paid for?) That’s called Realpolitik…divide and conquer. Maybe turn of the pundits on radio who poison honest intellectual debate and actually pick up a book and educate yourself.

Posted by peter | Report as abusive

“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.” What rubbish is this amendment talking about?
There is hardly some kind of foreign invasion taking place of the US that the people of that country need to bear arms. They complain about so-called rogue states such as Afghanistan, Pakistan etc… as bad examples, but just look at themselves. Ultra Pathetic

Posted by Jag | Report as abusive

I *love* the argument that gun ownership is to guard against the possibility of government tyrrany — the lunatic frontier fantasy of defending one’s log-cabin homestead against APC’s with a few rifles.

Few things speak more powerfully of what is most naive, most willfully childish in the American psyche.

Too many movies, children. Grow up.

As if.

Oh, and, yes, the Constitution is not merely a well-conceived document composed by men, it’s sacred writ, timeless, direct from the mind and hand of the Maker.

Do you really imagine a document, however well conceived, to provide governance for a nation of thirteen colonies and eight million is scaleable to a different time and to the governance of 50 states stripped of their rights by the war between the states and a populace of over 300 million?

Duh. Look around you. How well is the government functioning? You are in desperate need of deep structural reform, yet you cling to delusions of past glory.

That, folks, is the very definition of failure.

Keep it up.

Few things are more sacred in the American psyche than the myth of exceptionalism. Very nearly all bow to it. To question it is the minds of most Americans proof of a traitorous mind or revelatory that one is — gasp — a foreigner. One feels the fear lurking behind these claims at this point in time, however, as Americans demonstrate they are ‘exceptional’ largely in the negative sense.

Ah well, at least they’ll be able to hold off the ‘redskins’ and the ‘evil guvment’ with their guns and the ghost of John Wayne.

Pitiful, isn’t it?

Posted by Super Snark | Report as abusive

Richard ~

You are horrifically misinterpreting Luke 22:36. I suggest you learn English or, better still, how to interpret a simple passage in context.

Not to worry, though, I’m sure you find the steel-solidity of your weapon in your hand all the reassurance you need.

;)

Posted by Super Snark | Report as abusive

why do people need guns? don’t you have police to protect you? when everybody has guns,nobody is safe !
that is why gun-related crime is so serious in US.
if guns are easily obtainable,the first people to buy them would be criminals and that makes everone insecure.
if you live by the sword,you die by the sword.

Posted by Rahul Gandhi | Report as abusive