Commentary: Bloomberg puts cash into gun debate
It may be a longer, hotter summer for the gun freaks than they have had in some time, mainly the National Rifle Association, which approaches every election with a strategy to oppose everything and dole out money only to candidates who pledge allegiance to the industry’s policy of no firearms restrictions, period.
Michael Bloomberg is planning to give the NRA and its minions a dose of their own medicine at the same time a movement is gaining momentum among some states to take guns away from those identified as potentially dangerous because of mental problems.
Bloomberg’s well-heeled anti-gun organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, has begun asking all candidates for federal office in the midterm election about where they stand on gun issues. The right answers will win them support from a $50 million pot the billionaire former New York mayor personally has committed to bringing some sanity into the gun issue.
The gun lobby (principally the NRA) without much competition has been pumping millions of dollars into U.S. House and Senate elections to keep members in line. Bloomberg’s efforts are expected to provide an alternative, according to the Washington Post. And apparently it isn’t a onetime effort, the Post said, but will continue into the future. Well, let’s hope so.
Meanwhile, states searching with how to prevent the kind of mass killings that have become far too common are looking at a law that would permit judges to issue warrants removing guns from those police believe are threats to society. Connecticut and Indiana already have such a law, and California and New Jersey are considering similar statutes following the killing of six people last May near the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The Connecticut gun-seizure law was adopted in 1999 after the slaying of four managers at the state’s lottery headquarters by an employee known to have mental problems. The law, according to state officials, might have prevented the massacre of 20 elementary school students and six teachers at Newtown, Conn., two years ago if the police had been made aware of the shooter’s mental problems. The guns were bought legally by Adam Lanza’s mother whom he murdered before heading to the Sandy Hook school. In Indiana, the law was passed after the 2005 slaying of a police officer by a mentally ill man.
One can only speculate whether the adoption of a law expanding background checks to all firearms buyers might have headed off some of the gun violence by identifying potentially dangerous owners. The law proposed by President Barack Obama, backed by Bloomberg and supported by an estimated 90 percent of Americans, lost in the Senate when four Democrats voted against it, embarrassing not only Obama but revealing a serious weakness in the chief executive’s ability to keep his party’s members in line.
In Connecticut, judges can order firearms seized temporarily if police present evidence showing that their owners are a threat either to themselves or others. A hearing is required in 14 days to determine whether the guns should be returned or continue to be held up to a year. While less than perfect, I believe it is a major step in the right direction.
In any number of events where guns were used for mass slayings, there have been ample warning signs of mental disturbance. The horrendous shootings by a student as Virginia Tech were followed by revelations that the shooter had been treated for mental illness yet was able to legally buy the guns he used. Gun advocates, of course, say the law is ripe for police abuse, a common complaint they make in every attempt to bring down gun violence by reasonable policies.
What are the chances Bloomberg’s new initiative will succeed after failing to win the compromise background check expansion? The NRA’s 5 million members provide a significant amount of clout after all.
Unlike the first attempt, Bloomberg has merged several groups, including Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, into the Everytown group. The enlarged operation also is targeting state legislatures.
Nothing is easy about this, but it is at least taking on the NRA where it lives by making lawmakers pay. Doubling the amount of campaign money now being spent by the NRA to sway a Congress always for sale might not be enough, but it is a start.