Mayor Bloomberg, President Obama and the Politics of Gun Control [UPDATED]



UPDATED (1/15/13): On the one-month anniversary of Newtown, we heard yet more news about gun control from our mayor and president.

In Baltimore, Bloomberg attended a summit on the topic at John Hopkins University and, once again, called for more action on a national level. His speech outlined his federal advisory role we mentioned in this post a few weeks ago; in it, he made clear the specific demands he has been discussing with Vice President Joe Biden’s task force.

In Washington, Obama gave the final press conference of his first term. Before chastising the House Republicans for debt ceiling stalemates, the president made clear that he would be reviewing the VP’s work this week. In addition, he stressed the need for a federal assault weapons ban — a demand that Bloomberg made clear just a few cities away.

Along with the ban, the mayor re-stressed the measures he made in his original USA Today op-ed. This includes: a more uniform system of background checks; appointing candidates to important positions in the ATF; and giving more leeway to federal agencies to collect data on gun trafficking. In a call to gun enthusiasts, he reminded the audience that the Second Amendment had no part in this conversation: “This is not a Constitutional question; it’s a question of political courage.” We’re sure that’ll go over well with the NRA.

Also, the mayor released a full report on the matter, signed by a hundred mayors from across the country. This newfound municipal universality adds even more steam to the issue.

We’ll keep you updated on what happens in Washington (and with our mayor) over the coming days.

UPDATED (1/6/13): As we roll on into January, the working group sanctioned by President Obama has been a tad busy. A few weeks ago, the White House instructed Vice President Joe Biden to hastily prepare its policy package full of gun control provisions to present to the new Congress in the days to come. This past weekend, we got a glimpse of just what they’ve been concocting behind closed doors.

Turns out, the White House is totally serious about doing this. And we received another tidbit of information that should come as no surprise to anyone: Mayor Bloomberg is calling the shots here.

According to reports, Biden’s team, seeking advice from one of the most notoriously NRA-hated Mayors in America, has been on the phone with the Hizzoner’s advisers. As a result, it turns out the platform that we’ll see in the next few weeks will look similar to the one laid out by the Mayor in USA Today mid-December (of which you can find later in this post). This includes universal background checks for gun sales, a newly expanded assault weapons ban, the branding of gun trafficking as a felony and the increased use of executive privilege to direct federal agencies’ resources.

Also, Bloomberg’s consultancy follows the trajectory of action he’s taken since Newtown. As you can follow below, we’ve had to update this post a few times to keep up with the Mayor, from his immediate statement after the Newtown massacre to his penned op-ed mentioned before. It’s safe to say that he’s using this rare conversational opportunity with gun control to the fullest.

Once the working group is ready to face the spotlight on the Hill, President Obama will flaunt the proposals on a nationwide stump. So we can definitely expect to see more of Mayor Bloomberg soon. If he’s going to call the shots, he’ll be there to defend them, too.

The Voice will keep you updated.

UPDATED (12/20/12): In the three days since this post originally went up, much has happened in Washington and across the country in relation to the politics of the boiling gun control debate. The NRA is expected to make “meaningful contributions” tomorrow, and Congress is preparing itself for a debate come January it hasn’t had in years: the extremities of the Second Amendment and the pragmatic approaches we must take to deter violence from them. As we said on Monday, it seems as if the prophecies were right: Newtown was the tipping point.

And at the center of this recent policy development are two major figures that we zoomed in on earlier: our Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, and our President, Barack Obama.

Yesterday, the man the NRA has called an “arrogant bastard” in the past penned an op-ed in USA Today, outlining six steps he deemed vital in national gun reform. To foster his argument, the Hizzoner used his backyard as an example; a metropolis that has seen its lowest crime rates ever, due, in his opinion, to its strict gun laws.

Soon after, President Obama held a press conference in a packed room with reporters and cameras to tell the nation what had to be done in post-Newtown America.

This is what’s going to happen: Vice President Joe Biden will lead a team of Cabinet members and outside groups to formulate significant gun control proposals by January. Once done, these will be sent to Congress for passage with the full backing of the executive branch. Also, in the meantime, President Obama has lent his support to a bill by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, which will reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

“Words must lead to action,” President Obama told reporters. “This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issues for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside.” No, that’s what deficit-reduction committees are for.

Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomberg’s op-ed echoed the same kind of urgency as Obama’s January deadline. Basically, both messages stressed a simple credo: the longer we wait, the more bloodshed we will see. Here are the six major steps he called for:

– The assault weapons ban mentioned above

– Reform the background check system for buying a gun

– Make gun trafficking a felony

– Appoint someone to head the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau. Little known fact: The position has been (surprisingly) vacant for the past six years.

– The Justice Department needs to crack down on gun criminals

– And gun dealers

Only time will tell if the two leaders are in sync with their ideas. But, with both voices coming in loud and clear, it’s evident that this explosive argument has only just begun.

Original Post:

On Friday afternoon, the horrific details coming in from Newtown immediately began to parallel a recycled conversation about gun control. With 18 children dead in the third major mass shooting of this year, spectators and major media outlets alike gawked at the insane level of violence, leading fellow Voice writer Nick Pinto to ask “Is the Newtown Massacre the Mass Shooting That Starts Us Talking About Gun Control Again?

With what has happened over the past week, several signs are pointing to the affirmative: The NRA has gone into serious hiding; Senator Dianne Feinstein of California has introduced a bill to Congress after this vacation that will severely limit the sale of assault weapons; choking back tears, President Obama mentioned in his press conference that “meaningful action” needed to be taken; and the awe is still settling over the fact that the killer, Adam Lanza, had access to a gun (which belonged to his mom) that looked like something out of Call of Duty. After 20 to 30 years of dismal progress, what happened in Newtown might be the tipping point for the unsettled issue.

And, who else to head this conversational shift than the NRA’s Most Hated Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg? The widely outspoken gun control advocate appeared on Sunday’s Meet the Press to voice a single message to the White House: President Obama, it’s time to take a stand.

“It’s time for the president, I think, to stand up and lead,” the mayor said on the program. “This should be his number one agenda. He’s president of the United States, and if he does nothing during his second term, something like 48,000 Americans will be killed with illegal guns.”
According to Bloomberg, one of the ways the commander in chief can make a difference in this battle to change the conventional wisdom on the Second Amendment is to support Senator Feinstein’s upcoming bill. The president has mentioned a few times that he would like to see a ban on assault weapons — most recently, after what happened in Aurora — and a sign-off from Obama would almost guarantee passage. Charging him with four years of inaction, Bloomberg weighed in on this bully pulpit potential as well.
“The president, through his leadership, could get a bill like that (banning assault weapons) through Congress, but at least he’s got to try. That’s his job,” the mayor said. On the day of the shooting, he first urged the president to use this dose of urgency displayed by Newtown as a clarion call for change. These sentiments were touched upon in a letter penned by himself and Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston:
We heard after Columbine that it was too soon to talk about gun laws. We heard it after Virginia Tech. After Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek. And now we are hearing it again. For every day we wait, 34 more people are murdered with guns. Today, many of them were five-year olds. President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action.

But will the president heed Mayor Bloomberg’s advice and warnings? Obama is known as a cautious strategist, pragmatically nitpicking his political battles and gravitating toward the middle on certain positions in an attempt to satisfy both conservatives and liberals. However, he still has moments where he seizes the right opportunity at the right time: We cannot forget his support of same-sex marriage heading into the election season. So, to answer the first question posed here, we have to look at the risks of a gun control move.

Heading into his second term in office, the policy scenario in Washington has drastically changed. President Obama no longer has to worry about re-election or the loss of constituencies. Also, if this Election Day was any indicator, the NRA has lost its grip on the demographics. To win a modern-day election, you’re looking to guarantee the votes of women, the youth, and all those considered “non-Caucasian,” not the approval of gun-toting, rank-and-file NRA members. And Bloomberg mentioned that: His super PAC funded the successful campaigns of a few anti-NRA Congressional candidates.
Another major point to keep in mind: Most of the 290 politicians who took money from NRA this year were House Republicans. Regardless if he advances a gun control agenda or not, these guys are not exactly the friends Obama is calling up for a game of golf. Who cares if he ostracizes them? They have been anti-anything-Obama-does since day one on almost every policy that has been presented by him, let alone gun control. In terms of votes, theirs have been lost since the 2010 midterms.
So maybe Bloomberg has a point. Maybe the Newtown Massacre is the tipping point for gun control. The political risks are in the president’s favor. Now, it’s just a matter of seizing the moment.
Until then, we’ll leave you with this week’s opening of Saturday Night Live. Instead of its usual comedic monologue, the variety show dedicated the time to a performance by the New York City Children’s Choir of “Silent Night” to remember those lost on December 14, 2012.