Why it matters what Michael Bloomberg thinks about guns

Bloomberg talks to Bob Schieffer. (via CBS News)
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As most of the American political firmament expressed respectfully nonideological condolences for victims of the Aurora, Colorado shooting massacre, Mayor Michael Bloomberg distinguished himself by talking, unapologetically, about gun control. 

In particular, he called on President Barack Obama and would-be president Mitt Romney to issue more than just "soothing words" and enunciate an actual position on guns.

After Texas congressman Louie Gohmert wondered out loud why, given all the people in the movie theater, there was no one with a gun who could shoot back, Bloomberg told CBS News' Bob Schieffer that, "To arm everybody and have the wild west all the time is one of the more nonsensical things you can say."

(His full interview with Schieffer will run on Sunday's "Face the Nation.")

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Just who does the mayor think he is, to be sounding off on gun policy at such a time?

One answer is: He's a lame-duck billionaire who can afford, quite literally, to be as impolitic as he pleases.

But another, more important answer, is that he's continuing to establish himself as the most prominent gun-control advocate in America, with the promise of lots more to come when he leaves office.

Bloomberg has indicated that he intends to spend the rest of his life showering his money, Bill Gates-style, on causes he believes in, one of the most prominent of which is gun control. The fact that the national Democratic Party surrendered on the issue more than a decade ago has only seemed to make the issue more appealing to Bloomberg, whose ardor didn't flag even after the fizzling of his fanciful flirtations with a presidential run.

Certainly, Bloomberg has put at least some of his money where his mouth is: John Feinblatt, Bloomberg's chief policy aide, personally oversees Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national organization the mayor co-founded and funds. 

The organization's budget right now is only $4 million, compared to the N.R.A.'s $220 million. But Feinblatt predicts it's just a beginning, and harbors the ambitious goal of transforming the group into something that can some day rival the N.R.A. in political heft.

"Gunfight" author Adam Winkler recently told me that Bloomberg has become "enemy number one" for the gun lobby, and "the face of the gun-control movement."

"[T]hey had not met their match before us," Feinblatt told me earlier this spring, referring to the N.R.A. "And I'm not saying we don't have a ways to go. We do."

But, he said, "the mayor feels very strongly about this issue," and he argued it will probably become an area of even greater focus once the billionaire mayor leaves office.

"I have every expectation this is an issue that he will continue to work on and probably even with more jet propulsion, you could argue ... We always have to weigh lots of competing interests," said Feinblatt. "He represents 8.4 million people and there are lots of issues that need to be attended to."

Late this afternoon, members of MoveOn.org got an email urging them to sign a petition circulated by Mayors Against Illegal Guns "to demand action on ending gun violence."

"It's in the power of Congress to greatly reduce these senseless shootings and make tragedies like today's far less possible," reads the email. "They can start by enacting commonsense measures, like fixing giant loopholes in gun checks, that are supported by the vast majority of Americans—including gun owners."

Nothing much happened in Washington as result of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, after all the lamentations, and there's nothing to say anything will happen now, whatever Bloomberg says, and however many Americans sign his group's petition.

But Bloomberg is very apparently playing a long game, post-shooting decorum, and the N.R.A., be damned.