Bloomberg denounces the N.R.A. and ‘shoot first’ laws, just as charges against George Zimmerman are announced

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Shelton, Bloomberg and Smith. (via visualwebcaster.com)
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg flew to Washington today to announce a new initiative aimed at overturning “Stand Your Ground” laws nationwide.

The laws give people relatively broad authority to use deadly force to protect themselves against perceived threats, which came into play in the case of Travyon Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, who was not arrested after the incident.

But in a case of bad timing for the mayor, news broke today that the Florida attorney general would announce charges against Zimmerman this evening.

Reverend Al Sharpton was planning to attend Bloomberg's press conference at the National Press Club, but upon hearing news that charges against Zimmerman were imminent, Sharpton instead left to be with Martin’s family, also in Washington, according to a spokesman for the mayor.

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But Bloomberg was joined at the National Press Club by the National Urban League Policy Institute's executive director Chanelle Hardy, NAACP Washington bureau director Hilary Shelton, and Chris Smith, the senate minority leader in Florida, where the first Stand Your Ground law was passed in 2005. Since then, similar statutes have passed in 24 other states.

Mayor Bloomberg has made gun control one of his signature issues, and his administration harbors the long-term hope of making Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which he co-founded in 2006 and essentially controls, an effective counterweight to the National Rifle Association.  The N.R.A.has lobbied for Stand Your Ground laws across the country. 

“The laws are not the kind of laws that a civilized society should have," said Bloomberg. "And the N.R.A. should be ashamed of themselves. This has nothing to do with gun owners' rights, it’s nothing to do with the Second Amendment. Plain and simple, this is just trying to give people a license to murder.”

According to data derived from the F.B.I. and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and cited by the mayor's office on Wednesday, since passage of Stand Your Ground in Florida, it has seen the number of justifiable homicide cases rise from an average of 12 per year to 36; in the three years Texas has had a similar law, it has seen a rise from 26 to 45. And in the four years Arizona has had a Stand Your Ground law, it's seen such cases rise from 10 per year to 15.

Such laws, said Bloomberg, "justify civilian gun play and invite vigilante justice and retribution with disastrous results,” and he said this new coalition of organizations, which also includes Sharpton's National Action Network, colorofchange.org and VoteVets.org, was “urging legislators to take these steps: reform or repeal these laws where they have been passed, or defeat them in states where they have been introduced.”

“Our coalition will contact state legislators in every state that has passed a 'shoot-first' law, and we will put particular emphasis and focus on reforming or repealing the law in Florida," he said. "We will run a grassroots campaign, conducting outreach to legislators, producing public education materials, creating model legislation, and mobilizing the public to get involved. And the groups with me today will be leading that effort to mobilize citizens to make their voices heard.”

In the ensuing question-and-answer question, a reporter asked whether today's news that charges were pending against Zimmerman in any way undermined Bloomberg's case.

"No, I don’t know what happens in the Trayvon Martin case," he said. "That’s for the prosecutor and the justice system to adjudicate and do whatever they think is appropriate. But I’m trying to protect people across this country. Somebody this morning asked me what standing do I have. I go to states with Stand Your Ground laws. My daughters go to states with Stand Your Ground laws. This is part of America."

He also had a tense exchange with a reporter from the conservative news website, the Daily Caller, who asked him about the fact that he had not denounced a bounty placed by the New Black Panthers on Zimmerman's head.

“Anybody that puts a bounty on somebody else’s life is acting totally inappropriately ... What an outrage to even ask the question! What do you think? Putting a bounty on somebody’s life is just as bad as..."

"I don't see you outspoken about that," said the reporter.

"I didn't even know about it until you just told me, thank you very much," responded the mayor. "I appreciate the information. Now I’ve said my piece, OK? It is an outrage and it’s against the law."