New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has long been a persistent advocate for tighter gun laws, but in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, his voice has become one of the most recognisable in the United States.
Bloomberg, 70, is among America’s richest people. He frequently finances pet causes and, with his final term at the helm of the biggest US city over next year, he is looking for something into which he can pour his clout and cash.
Known in the Big Apple for presiding over a falling murder rate and numerous health initiatives, Bloomberg has long made the national issue of gun controls a priority.
At every shooting massacre, Bloomberg quickly appears on television, Twitter, or podiums to denounce what he sees as an out-of-control gun culture.
But now, his consistently tough line is in tune with a burst of outrage — and a pledge by President Barack Obama to back a law that would ban assault rifles.
The Newtown killings of 20 children and six staff at an elementary school were “a tipping point,” Bloomberg said. “What kind of craziness is this?” he asked on CBS television.
This week, he and mayors of several other large cities, including Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel and Los Angeles’ Antonio Villaraigosa, sent an open letter to Congress and to Obama, demanding changes to restrict weapons access.
He said on NBC that guns, linked to 31,000 deaths in the country a year, should be Obama’s “number one agenda.”
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which Bloomberg co-founded in 2006 and now has more than 725 mayors taking part, is running a petition to ask Washington to “pass gun laws that will keep guns out of the hands of criminals.”
Otherwise, the organisation notes, more than 48,000 Americans are on track to be killed in shootings, not counting even greater numbers of gun suicides, between now and the end of Obama’s second term.
Newtown gave impetus to this campaign. Within hours, Bloomberg was on Twitter, saying Obama “rightly sent his condolences to families. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress.”
“It’s time for the president to stand up and lead,” he said.
Bloomberg’s nemesis is the National Rifle Association, a lobby which fights any restrictions of gun ownership on the grounds that this would violate the US constitutional guarantee of the right for private citizens to bear arms.
Bloomberg said the NRA was not as politically powerful as many believe.
“To show you how powerless they really are, their number one objective in this last election was to defeat Barack Obama for a second term,” he said.
“Last time I checked, he won. And the NRA has created this myth that you can’t fight them.”
At the November Congressional and presidential elections, Bloomberg gave millions from his media fortune to candidates he approved of.
Among them were five candidates — four running for the House and one for the Senate — against NRA-backed opponents. In four of the five cases, his candidates won, he says.
“Next time I certainly will do more,” he said.
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