It has been a week since the massacre in Aurora, Colo. The two major presidential candidates spent the past week avoiding the subject of whether anything should be done to prevent such shootings from recurring.

Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, declared Wednesday that “changing the heart of the American people” is our best hope to stop the carnage. President Barack Obama offered little more than support for his past positions, such as banning assault weapons. Very likely, both candidates will spend the next few months avoiding the issue altogether.

The wise men of Washington tell us that candidates are silent on guns because to speak out is to incur the wrath of the National Rifle Association. But polls consistently show that gun owners, including NRA members, overwhelmingly support the common-sense measures that mayors across the country have been trying to get Washington to pass for years.

More than 700 mayors, from both political parties, have joined together to stop the flow of illegal guns into our communities. Mayors know all too well that the debate on the Second Amendment is over. The Supreme Court recognized that the Second Amendment grants citizens the right to bear arms, subject to reasonable restrictions. The question is: What should those restrictions look like?

Mayors and the NRA strongly agree that the federal government should enforce the laws already on the books. Federal law prohibits all felons — and those with a history of mental illness or drug abuse — from possessing guns.

The NRA believes — rightly — that enforcing the law means prosecuting criminals to the fullest extent. In New York state, we have increased the mandatory minimum prison sentence for illegal possession of a loaded gun to three and a half years, one of the toughest penalties in the country.

But whether fighting illegal guns or drugs, we should seek not merely to make arrests, but to prevent the crime from occurring in the first place. That is why the federal government requires licensed firearm dealers to conduct background checks to determine whether an individual is eligible to purchase a gun. Nonlicensed sellers, however, are not required to perform federal background checks, and as much as 40 percent of gun sales slip through this loophole. Criminals and the deranged can buy guns simply by logging on to the Internet or visiting a gun show — and they do, every day. Stopping them requires background checks for every gun sale, a change strongly supported by major law enforcement organizations, as well as gun owners and NRA members. But not the NRA’s leadership.

The NRA is a $200 million-plus-a-year lobbying juggernaut, with much of its funding coming from gun manufacturers and merchandising. More than anything, the NRA is a marketing organization, and its flagship product is fear. Gun sales jumped after Obama was elected president, based on the absurd — and now demonstrably false — fear that he would seek to ban guns.

There is one particular fear the NRA manufactures with great success: fear of electoral defeat. Romney has walked away from the assault-weapons ban he once supported, and in nearly four years, Obama has offered no legislation to rein in illegal guns. In Congress, the NRA threatens lawmakers who fail to do its ideological bidding, although its record in defeating candidates is much more myth than reality.

What can be done? One of the Senate’s most pro-gun members has paradoxically shown how the battle might begin. Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, also the chamber’s most sincere fiscal conservative, has made it his mission to diminish the influence of another ideological group that has exercised unwarranted sway over public policy: the anti-tax absolutists led by Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform.

To confront Norquist, Coburn identified an indefensible tax — the ethanol subsidy — isolated it and forced a vote on it. His colleagues, many of whom had signed Norquist’s pledge never to raise taxes, were forced to choose between opposing what Coburn decried as an obvious “special interest giveaway” or publicly caving to Norquist. By heightening attention on the vote, the tactic worked. The $5.4 billion ethanol subsidy was voted down.

The Coburn approach could be applied to guns. Elected officials who profess to be tough on crime but who also oppose tougher measures to stop illegal guns can’t be in two places at once — particularly when many law enforcement organizations support basic gun measures that simply don’t exist today. In the same way Coburn pointed out the ethanol-corporate welfare contradiction, a pro-gun senator can point out the obvious: It’s impossible to support police officers and law enforcement agencies and also oppose giving them the tools they need to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

Some Americans view smarter, tougher gun measures as a hopeless crusade. But political environments change, especially when strong leaders build coalitions and carve new paths through seemingly settled territory. There are conservative, pro-gun rights members of Congress who understand that more can be done to keep guns away from dangerous people.

We know the special interests’ grip can be shaken; the most egregious gaps in gun regulation can be filled. The Coburn approach is proven. Who has the guts to follow it?

Michael R. Bloomberg is mayor of New York, co-founder and co-chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP. This editorial was provided via Bloomberg News.

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(4) comments


Hey Mayor BloomingIdiot, I dare you to give your heavily armed (with AUTOMATIC firearms, no less) security detail the night off, and walk the streets of YOUR city, alone. Liar. Scum. Hypocrite.


and please readers don't forget mr bloomberg has the luxury of being able to afford armed bodyguards!

do you think nanny mike wants his bodyguards to go unarmed?

filthy rich politico class nannies looking down and over the undesirables.

worry about new york.

obama spelled out his thoughts on the topic with his ak47 statement.

i'm sick of the politico class proving their disconnect from the rest of us by reducing us to herds that need corralling.

current gun laws or future gun laws don't determine an individual's morality or mental health.

in an effort to make this about guns Mike and the cast won't speak on either.

people join and fund the NRA precisely because Mike and cast seem so willing to cater to nanny rules and the media bombards them with like 10 to 1 anti-gun news-pieces to pro-gun pieces.


fast and furious should be the illegal gun program that nanny mike should be trying to end.


why can't we have mayors against illegal immigration?

this illegal guns business. what does he mean? like a felon having a gun (which is illegal) or a legal citizen having an assault rifle? (which is legal but nanny mike doesn't want them to be)

democrats should distance themselves from progressive's gun grabbing stance.

i'm saying this as somebody who wants a viable democratic option.

obama won't touch this above the radar with a twenty foot pole.

thus fast and furious.

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