» This Story:Read +|Talk +| Comments

Mayor Bloomberg Takes On the NRA

Michael Bloomberg, who has a security detail on New York's subways, helped found Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which has members in 40 states.
Michael Bloomberg, who has a security detail on New York's subways, helped found Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which has members in 40 states. (By Bebeto Matthews -- Associated Press)

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
Manuel Roig-Franzia and John Feinblatt
Washington Post Staff Writer; Mayors Against Illegal Guns
Wednesday, August 5, 2009; 2:00 PM

Washington Post Style reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia and John Feinblatt of Mayors Against Illegal Guns discuss New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's showdown with the NRA over gun rights.

This Story

Ed's note: A representative of the NRA was invited to join the Q and A but was unable to participate.

____________________

Urbana, Ill.: My concern with concealed carry laws is that the few I am aware of have zero provisions that address proficiency. Most people could not hit the broad side of a barn with a hand gun. How is Joe six pack made safer by carrying a gun he couldn't hit anything with at 25 yards? After 20 years in the Marine Corps I know that a large majority of Marines can't hit much with a pistol and I expect the general public has a more dismal level of proficiency with a hand gun. Why is it we never see any discussion of proficiency when it comes laws allowing people to carry concealed weapons?

John Feinblatt: In fact, some states do have extensive training requirements. The problem with the recently defeated Thune Amendment was that it would have allowed people who had not received training to carry guns even in states that expressly required training.

_______________________

Boston: It's too bad the NRA rep could not make this, but my question is why is the NRA so against what many consider common sense rules, such as bans on assault weapons, carrying concealed weapons across state lines, even the recent Arizona law that allows concealed weapons in bars. Do they think that any law against any kind of firearm would be a step to eliminating the 2nd amendment?

Manuel Roig-Franzia: I can't speak for the NRA. But based on my conversations with leaders of the organization, I'd say it's safe to say that they feel the 2nd amendment is continuously being threatened in America and that they are determined to protect it.

The concealed carry debate that just took place on Capitol Hill focused on federal law. States have their own gun laws, and many have so-called "reciprocity" arrangements with others states that allow people with conceal-carry permits to travel between those individual states. The NRA and the laws sponsor's were interested in taking this approach national.

_______________________

Mt. Rainier MD: To drive an automobile, you have to pass a test, get a license (and prove who you are to get it), and get your car registered. You are on a state database as owning that car. I have not heard of anyone raging that this is a government conspiracy to keep us from having cars. And at least the car's primary purpose is not killing, though it sure does a job on the deathrate. How the devil can the NRA justify its stand on unregulated sales and ownership of guns? Why are we the last country in the world to allow this?

Manuel Roig-Franzia: You've touched on an important issue, one that has been debated at great length on Capitol Hill. For instance, there are set of rules known of the Tiahrt amendments - named for Kansas Congressman Todd Tiahrt - that prevent the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives from sharing some gun information with other law enforcement agencies. Mayors Against Illegal Guns want the amendments repealed, arguing that the information could be used to help solve crimes; the NRA wants the rules to stay in place, citing privacy concerns.

The following are bullet points that the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action has on its Web site regarding Tiahrt. (Below that, I'll post the arguments made by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.)

* Releasing the information serves no useful purpose. The Congressional Research Service has repeatedly said "firearm trace data may be biased" and "cannot be used to test for statistical significance between firearm traces in general and the wider population of firearms available to criminals or the wider American public."[1] These limitations exist because the "tracing system is an operational system designed to help law enforcement agencies identify the ownership path of individual firearms. It was not designed to collect statistics."[2]

* Traced guns aren't always "crime guns"; firearms may be traced for reasons unrelated to any armed crime. The BATFE trace request form lists "crime codes" for traffic offenses and election law violations, among many others.

* Trace information remains available for law enforcement use. The FY 2007 version of the Tiahrt amendment ensures that trace data is available to federal, state, and local agencies "in connection with and for use in a bona fide criminal investigation or prosecution" or for use in administrative actions by BATFE-which is, of course, the principal agency responsible for overseeing the conduct of federally licensed firearms dealers.The language and history of the Gun Control Act are clear: Congress always intended to keep this information confidential, and to allow its use only for legitimate law enforcement purposes. The firearms trace database includes information such as the agency requesting a gun trace, the location from which the gun was recovered, and the identity of the dealer and original retail buyer.

* Both BATFE and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) oppose release of trace data. In fact, BATFE has fought for years in the federal courts to keep the databases confidential, because they contain information (such as names of gun buyers) that could jeopardize ongoing investigations-not to mention law enforcement officers' lives. For example, a suspected gun trafficker could search databases for names of "straw purchasers" he had used to buy handguns, or for traces requested on guns he had sold. That information could lead him to names of officers, informants and other witnesses against his crimes. (View commentary by FOP President Chuck Canterbury from April 24, 2007)

* Even the current language has allowed too many disclosures of sensitive information. For instance, anti-gun groups and the media have repeatedly received confidential trace data from government "leaks." And Judge Jack Weinstein of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, who presides over New York City's lawsuit against the firearms industry, has "creatively" ruled that the riders do not protect the information that Congress so clearly intended to protect.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns on Tiahrt:

How Tiahrt Harms Law Enforcement

While some components of the Tiahrt Amendments were improved in 2007, several damaging provisions continue to tie the hands of law enforcement.

*

State and local authorities are still restricted from having full access to aggregated trace data:

The Tiahrt Amendments force gun trace data requests to be made in connection with individual criminal investigations or prosecutions, blocking full access to the aggregate data that law enforcement need to examine gun trafficking patterns and make key connections between separate cases. Furthermore, state and local governments are prohibited from seeing trace data or using it in administrative license reviews.

*

NICS background check records are still destroyed within 24 hours:

The Tiahrt Amendments require the Justice Department to destroy the record of a buyer whose NICS background check was approved within 24 hours. This makes it harder to catch law-breaking gun dealers who falsify their records, and it makes it more difficult to identify and track straw purchasers who buy guns on behalf of criminals who wouldn't be able to pass a background check.

*

ATF still does not have the power to require dealer inventory checks to detect lost and stolen guns:

While dealers must notify ATF if they discover that guns from their inventories have been lost or stolen, the Tiahrt Amendments prevent ATF from requiring gun dealers to conduct annual physical inventory checks to detect losses and thefts. ATF reported that in 2007 it found 30,000 guns missing from dealer inventories based on its inspection of just 9.3% of gun dealers.

_______________________

Vienna, Va.: I jokingly call myself an "armed Democrat" because how I vote and what I carry. I keep hoping for a little balance between the NRA and the gun-control groups. In many respects, many current laws on concealed carry contain the seeds of some compromise on gun issues. In order to receive a permit, one needs to demonstrate some proficiency and knowledge of firearms and pass a background check with the local police. This has not seemed to be a burden to gun owners, and it seems to meet a concern of gun controllers who want more regulation of who can acquire firearms.

That being said, as a gun owner and an at least once a week recreational shooter, I'm appalled more at the rhetoric of many anti-gun people than I am with the NRA. For example, can anyone really point to licensed gun shops being the armories for Mexican drug gangs?

Manuel Roig-Franzia: Hi Vienna. There's been a lot more attention lately on the question of U.S. guns in Mexico. In Mexico, it was a very big deal earlier this year when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged that U.S. guns find their way to Mexican criminals. For years, many top Mexican officials have thought that the U.S. was not accepting enough responsibility as a source of guns used by drug cartels and as a market for drugs trafficked by Mexican gangs.

Authorities in Mexico and the United States do not know the origin of all guns involved in Mexican crimes because not all guns are traced. But authorities on both sides of the border generally agree that a high percentage of the guns that are traced have their origins in the United States. The reasons are numerous: poor screening of vehicles headed into Mexico, corrupt customs officials. Mexican authorities also believe that small batches of guns are brought from the U.S. to Mexico via what they call the "Ant Trail," which involves individuals walking across the border with as few or two guns hidden in their clothes or belongings.

John Feinblatt: In fact, the federal government -- both the ATF and GAO -- have said that about 90 percent of crime guns traced from Mexico were orginially sold in the U.S. These sales often occur at gun shows or through straw purchases from dealers in border states like Texas, Arizona and California.

_______________________

Harrisburg, Pa.: We just had another shooting in Pennsylvania. I fear one of the problems is we have always had people with severe emotional problems who snap. Yet, in the past, they would start a brawl or smash something. People would fight with fists or knives. Today, it is so much easier to pull out a gun and start firing off a clip full of bullets. I fear a big problem is we have made guns too accessible, and too many problems wind up being addressed by the use of guns, don't you think?

John Feinblatt: Actually, last year Congress responded to the Virginia Tech shooting -- also perpetrated by someone with mental illness -- by giving states incentives to share their mental health records with the federal gun background check system. Unfortunately, Congress has still yet to fully fund this program.

_______________________

Tampa, Fla.: I think you need to focus on educating the public the way the NRA has focused on its disinformation campaign. The public now believes that the 2d Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear any and all arms. This is wrong, and I don't care how Scalia mangled the history of the 2d Amendment in Heller. And even Scalia clearly indicated that anything short of an outright ban would be constitutional.

Yet the public believes otherwise.

I think you need to fund a long-term effort to overcome the NRA disinformation. This effort must encompass law enforcement, as they have credibility with the public. It will take an awful lot of money, and years of effort, if not decades.

But there is nothing out in the public discourse to effectively counter the NRA's efforts. Bloomberg and his friends need to spend, and spend big, to counter this.

John Feinblatt: You are right Tampa. The Supreme Court held that 2nd Amendment -- just like the 1st Amendment -- is not an absoulte right and is subject to reasonable restrictions. Interestingly, the Court clearly suggested that concealed carry could be regulated. Mayors Against Illegal Guns believes that the Supreme Court decision struck a good balance in recognizing the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms while allowing states to craft reasonable public safety restrictions.

_______________________

Columbus, Ohio: Mayor Bloomberg can have paid armed guards protecting him just like other very wealthy people, yet he wants ordinary law-abiding citizens to be disarmed, telling us to rely on the police for protection. If it is not good enough for Mayor Bloomberg, it's not good enough for the rest of us. I'm not an NRA member, but I share their opinion that our 2nd Amendment rights must be vigorously defended against the likes of Bloomberg, Schumer, Feinstein and Obama who wish to strip our Constitutional rights from us.

John Feinblatt: Mayors Against Illegal Guns believes that states ought to have the right to determine their own public safety laws. The problem with the Thune Amendment was that it forced states to recognize concealed carry permits from every other state -- even those with far weaker rules. This is not about taking away anyone's Constitutional rights. It's just about recognizing each state's prerogative to set its own reasonable regulations.

_______________________

Columbus, Ohio: Mayor Bloomberg can have paid armed guards protecting him just like other very wealthy people, yet he wants ordinary law-abiding citizens to be disarmed, telling us to rely on the police for protection. If it is not good enough for Mayor Bloomberg, it's not good enough for the rest of us. I'm not an NRA member, but I share their opinion that our 2nd Amendment rights must be vigorously defended against the likes of Bloomberg, Schumer, Feinstein and Obama who wish to strip our Constitutional rights from us.

John Feinblatt: Mayors Against Illegal Guns believes that states ought to have the right to determine their own public safety laws. The problem with the Thune Amendment was that it forced states to recognize concealed carry permits from every other state -- even those with far weaker rules. This is not about taking away anyone's Constitutional rights. It's just about recognizing each state's prerogative to set its own reasonable regulations.

Manuel Roig-Franzia: This what Thune's spokesman, Kyle Downey, had to say about Mayor Bloomberg: "The fact that a guy who rides the New York subways with armed guards can tell the rest of America that they cannot defend themselves is absurd."

As I understand it, the mayor's office doesn't talk about specifics of his security, but points out that many public officials have armed security.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Why do you believe the NRA is as effective as it is in getting Democrats to vote their way? Do the Democrats really support them, or are they just bowing to the NRA's perceived strength?

Manuel Roig-Franzia: There's no question that the members of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans -- are very aware of the NRA's system of scoring votes. These scores often end up getting cited in political campaigns.

Geography goes a long way toward explaining the NRA's reception among some Democrats. As a former Southern bureau chief for the Post, I can tell you that there is often a big difference between Southern Democrats and Northern Democrats. Southern Democrats tend to be more conservative than their nothern counterparts on many issues. A case in point is the Thune amendment, which is the subject of my piece today http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/04/AR2009080403132.html?hpid=topnews

The NRA was a supporter of the amendment, which got yes votes from Southern Democrats, such as Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas, Mary Landrieu from Louisiana and Kay Hagan from North Carolina.

_______________________

Philadelphia: "Do they think that any law against any kind of firearm would be a step to eliminating the 2nd amendment?" According to my NRA-member, gun-enthusiast brother-in-law, yes, that is what he and they think. He's been a member for decades, and was one of those guys "stocking up" last fall, and makes his vacation decisions based on what gun laws exist in that state. Everything is a threat to the 2nd Amendment, even an academic discussion about what the 2nd Amendment actually says. (It's interesting, really: he's a high school science teacher who has to fight each year to be allowed to teach evolution, has been threatened for not going along with public school-administered prayer sessions, but doesn't seem to think the 1st Amendment is in any danger at all and any discussion about it results in him tuning out entirely.)

John Feinblatt: Most people -- like members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns -- support the 2nd Amendment. The problem is that too often any discussion of reasonable restrictions is characterized as anti-2nd Amendment. Interestingly, that isn't the case with the 1st Amendment. Just because someone believes it should be illegal to falsely cry "fire" in a crowded movie theater, doesn't mean that person is opposed to free speech.

_______________________

Re: Boston: When has anyone threatened to repeal the 2nd ammendment? Not sure I've seen even the most liberal politician suggest that.

Manuel Roig-Franzia: Interesting question. Not sure if any recent politician had done that. Anyone out there care to chime in?

Food for thought. Here's an opinion piece in Salon, the online magazine, headlined "Repeal the Second Amendment."

http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/04/18/second_amendment/

And editorial in the Harvard Crimson with the same headline

http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=214705

_______________________

Washington, DC: You need to be aware that "reasonable" is a misleading term. It is not a matter of politics, but of physics that "assault weapons" are no more dangerous than any other semi-auto gun. I would be happy to take you to the range to prove this to you.

Let me ask you this. How come you position Bloomberg as "supporting 2A" when he has a virtual ban on guns in his city?

John Feinblatt: New York City, in fact, issues permits for both concealed carry and the home. Contrary to some claims, there is no ban on guns in New York City.

_______________________

Fairfax, Va.: bans on assault weapons?

How do we define that weapon? I think too many people think because a rifle looks like a military rifle, it operates the same way. They don't, but people persist on thinking so. (And the "high powered" .223 most the "assault weapons" shoot aren't even powerful enough to hunt deer with.)

Manuel Roig-Franzia: Well, you asked...

Here's a taste of how some in Washington define one particular kind of assault weapon: text from the Assault Weapons Ban Reauthorization Act of 2008 defining semiautomatic assault weapons (which, by the way, never became law.)

the full text is here: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h110-6257

(b) DEFINITION OF SEMIAUTOMATIC ASSAULT WEAPON- Section 921(a) of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding after paragraph (29) the following:

'(30) The term 'semiautomatic assault weapon' means--

'(A) any of the firearms, or copies or duplicates of the firearms in any caliber, known as--

'(i) Norinco, Mitchell, and Poly Technologies Avtomat Kalashnikovs (all models);

'(ii) Action Arms Israeli Military Industries UZI and Galil;

'(iii) Beretta Ar70 (SC-70);

'(iv) Colt AR-15;

'(v) Fabrique National FN/FAL, FN/LAR, and FNC;

'(vi) SWD M-10, M-11, M-11/9, and M-12;

'(vii) Steyr AUG;

'(viii) INTRATEC TEC-9, TEC-DC9 and TEC-22; and

'(ix) revolving cylinder shotguns, such as (or similar to) the Street Sweeper and Striker 12;

'(B) a semiautomatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of--

'(i) a folding or telescoping stock;

'(ii) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;

'(iii) a bayonet mount;

'(iv) a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor; and

'(v) a grenade launcher;

'(C) a semiautomatic pistol that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of--

'(i) an ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip;

'(ii) a threaded barrel capable of accepting a barrel extender, flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer;

'(iii) a shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel and that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the nontrigger hand without being burned;

'(iv) a manufactured weight of 50 ounces or more when the pistol is unloaded; and

'(v) a semiautomatic version of an automatic firearm; and

'(D) a semiautomatic shotgun that has at least 2 of--

'(i) a folding or telescoping stock;

'(ii) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;

'(iii) a fixed magazine capacity in excess of 5 rounds; and

'(iv) an ability to accept a detachable magazine.'.

_______________________

Washington, DC: Wrong, Wrong Wrong. The GAO did NOT say that 90% of guns traced came from the U.S. They said 90% of the guns submitted for tracing came from the US. That is an important distinction since they only submitted about 25% of guns confiscated.

John Feinblatt: You are right, it is guns traced which we said in our answer as well. Nobody knows how many guns are not submitted for tracing and that's why we support improving ATF's capacity to trace guns from Mexico. However, the GAO found that law enfocement officials agree that the U.S. is a major source.

_______________________

Silver Spring, Md.: How many members does the NRA have? How much is a yearly membership? Can the Mayors' group sponsor memberships? I'll join the NRA and vote for Bloomberg to become it's head.

Manuel Roig-Franzia: NRA officials told me they have 4 million members.

I just went to their Web site, which says an annual membership is $35

_______________________

Baltimore: Do all criminals and mass shooter's follow the laws to obtain their guns? And do they invest the time and money to get a concealed carry permit like I did, a law abiding citizen? I have a right to defend myself and my family, no matter where I am. Concealed carry is the most effective way to do that. Am I wrong? The Supreme Court has ruled that the police cannot be held responsible for the protection of the individual.

John Feinblatt: Sadly, three police officers were shot and killed by a man with a concealed carry permit in Pittsburgh this year. While certainly most concealed carry permit holders are law abiding, it is important to carefully craft laws that ensure that permits are not issued to dangerous and unstable persons. Our concern with the Thune Amendment was that it interfered with states' right to set their own public safety standards.

_______________________

Anonymous: Would you consider doing a story on DC's gun laws? In particular I would like to know why I can register a semi-auto rifle with a fixed stock that is 28" long. But I cannot register a rifle with an adjustable stock that can be extended from 30" to 34". What makes that latter gun more dangerous? I've asked Mendelson, but cannot answer this question.

Manuel Roig-Franzia: Here is a smattering of the Post's coverage of DC gunlaws:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dc/2009/06/gray_shooting_renews_need_for.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/04/AR2008080402260.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/04/AR2009030403802.html

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dc/2009/03/giving_up_guns_for_voting_righ.html

_______________________

Manuel Roig-Franzia: Thanks so much for all the questions.

For those of you who want to continue the discussion, it looks like there's an active - and lively debate - still going in the comments section attached to the article. Here's a link:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/04/AR2009080403132.html?hpid=topnews

_______________________

Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


» This Story:Read +|Talk +| Comments
© 2009 The Washington Post Company

Discussion Archive

Viewpoint is a paid discussion. The Washington Post editorial staff was not involved in the moderation.

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity