2:11 pm Aug. 6, 20121
Since the July 20 shooting spree in Aurora, Co., Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been agressively pushing gun control, or to use his more marketable term, “crime control,” in the local and national media.
This afternoon, the mayor and NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly visited a Sikh cultural society in Queens to express their condolences following the latest shooting, at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
Speaking this morning to reporters in Rockaway, the mayor sounded what has become a familiar note of frustration.
"I don't know what it takes," he said. "I mean, even when a congresswoman was shot, Congress didn't care. They talked about adding more guns when the congresswoman was shot."
Referring to the support he and his organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, were finding across the country, he said, "And the organization that I chair with [Boston Mayor] Tom Menino has 700 mayors in it, from East Coast, West Coast, North, South, rural, urban, Republican, Democratic, independent mayors, it's all over. This is a national problem."
Apparently that coalition is growing.
In the last two weeks, according to the mayor's spokesman, nine more U.S. mayors, mostly of the smaller-town variety, have joined Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the bipartisan national coalition co-founded by Bloomberg in 2006 whose mission is to close the substantial loopholes in the nation’s existing gun regulations.
That brings the organization’s membership to 730 mayors, representing 57,276,203 Americans, or 18.3 percent of the country’s population, according to the mayor's office. It's still a pittance, compared to the membership and policial heft of the National Rifle Association, which the group aspires one day to rival in influence. But the mayor's office sees the new recruits as an indication that high-profile shootings like Aurora are having an effect.
"It is notable that in that short period of time, we had nine mayors proactively reach out to us to join, because they believed in the common-sense solutions they were hearing from the coalition to stop gun violence," said Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for Bloomberg.
Many of the nation's big-city mayors are already represented. From America's 10 most populous cities, only three mayors have yet to sign up, and they’re all from Texas: Houston's Annise Parker, Dallas' Mike Rawlings and San Antonio's Julian Castro.
One of the new, small-town members is Jackie Holcombe, the mayor of Morrisville, North Carolina, population nearly 20,000. She describes herself, politically, as an "unaffiliated voter."
Between Raleigh and Durham, near the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Outer Banks, the town is home to high-tech companies like Lenovo and Salix Pharmaceutical, and its population is young, well-educated, affluent, about 27 percent Asian, and poorly armed. Holcombe says fewer than 2 percent of its occupants carry.
Gun violence is not a problem there, she said, but gun politics is.
Last year, North Carolina passed a law allowing concealed guns in parks and on athletic fields, leaving it up to local municipalities to pass their own bans.
"We have had a number of folks concerned that this is the quote-unquote slippery slope, that if we do restrict concealed guns on playgrounds, what's next," said Holcombe.
What does she make of that argument?
"Guns and children don’t mix," she said. "Period."
But it was only after Aurora, and after one of her residents suggested she check out the Mayors Against Illegal Guns website, that she decided to sign on to Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
“People are going to need to quit hiding from the reality of having reasonable restrictions on guns,” said Holcombe, who, like Bloomberg, supports an assault-weapons ban. “We just need to face that and decide, as a civilized nation, how much are we willing to risk, in terms of lost life and injury in order to allow things like assault weapons to be sold.”
Holcombe said she admires Bloomberg for "really being the impetus that’s getting the discussions going again," and does not fear a backlash from the N.R.A.
“Not at all,” she said. “Not at all.”
“I don’t think I have ever met a mayor that does not want to keep firearms out of dangerous hands,” said Holcombe, adding, “I’m actually surprised that not every mayor has signed on at this point. I was actually surprised at the low number of mayors that had signed on."
Bob Murphy, the mayor of Lakewood, Colorado, population 150,000, is non-gun-owning Democrat, though he said his party label doesn't mean anything since elections there are nonpartisan, and he doesn't have guns because he has other hobbies, like golfing, snowshoeing and fishing.
For a while now, he's had a letter sitting in his inbox from his “good friend, the mayor of Denver” asking if he would consider joining Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
As in Morrisville, gun violence is not much of an issue there. But Lakewood is not far from Aurora, or, for that matter, Columbine, and after returning from a recent vigil for the Aurora shooting, he responded.
"It’s not common sense to me that people are citizens are running around with AK-47 assault rifles," he said.
Murphy said he hopes that Mayors Against Illegal Guns, as it grows larger, can “help stimulate a rational conversation about a reasonable solution to some of the unnecessary and illegal weapons that are out there.”
Another new recruit, Jerry Vinci, the mayor of Tiltonsville, Ohio, population 1,372, also agreed to be interviewed.
He's a registered Democrat and a gun-owner, but does not belong to the N.R.A. For a while now, he'd been sitting on a letter from the Ohio mayors association urging him to join Mayors Against Illegal Guns, but he never did anything about it.
When he finally did join, it wasn't because of Aurora.
“It had more to do with Fast and Furious," he said, referring to the death of border patrol agent Brian Terry by a gun purchased from a store run by gun-trafficking suspect. “I just felt by sending this in it’s just a statement I believe in the basic principles of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. If it had to do with legal guns and taking away people’s rights to legal guns, I wouldn’t have signed it.”
The other members include: Mayor Bruce Mount of Eatonville, Florida, the self-described “Oldest Incorporated African American Municipality in America,” and an annual host to the annual Zora Neale-Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities; Kathie deNobriga, mayor of an artsy Georgia community called Pine Lake, population 730; Leon Rockingham, mayor of North Chicago, a 32,500-person municipality that, as its name suggests, is north of Chicago; Newton, Massachusetts mayor Setti Warren, who governs a municipality of about 80,000 right outside Boston; Martin Petrovic, a Professor of Turfgrass Science in the Horticulture Department at Cornell University and the mayor of Trumansburg, N.Y., near Ithaca; and Darrick Jackson, mayor of Timmonsville, South Carolina.