Can mayors make Jared Loughner the poster boy for gun control?

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is trying to force Congress's hand on gun control, suggesting that new laws could have kept guns out of the hands of Tucson shooting suspect Jared Loughner.

Seth Wenig/AP
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (c.), joined by family and friends of those injured and killed in the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., at Virginia Tech and at Columbine High School in Colorado, speaks about gun control during a news conference at City Hall in New York Monday.

As Congress begins its new session, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants it to add one more piece of legislation: a bill to tighten up the nation’s background checks on people buying a gun.

Mayor Bloomberg, who is co-head of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, says the no-buy registry is not up-to-date, and there are still loopholes that allow guns to be purchased without a background check.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which is made up of 550 mayors around the country, wants the background check to include the records of all felony convictions, domestic violence incidents and people with mental illness and a drug history. Secondly, it would like to require “occasional sellers” of firearms, such as people who sell weapons at gun shows or through ads, to be required to conduct background checks.

If the records were up to date, Jared Loughner, the man accused of shooting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and and killing six others in Tucson, Ariz., Jan. 8, would not have qualified to buy a gun.

“As of Dec. 31 of last year, only 2,092 people were listed in the background check system as drug addicts or abusers,” says Bloomberg. “That is just preposterous. We all know it and one of the missing names was that of Jared Loughner.”

In September 2007 Mr. Loughner was arrested for possession of a controlled substance and an arresting officer wrote that there was a "strong odor of burnt marijuana coming off of Mr. Loughner's person." A year later, he was rejected by the military for drug use.

The political reality

To remedy the situation, Bloomberg would like to see President Obama use his State of the Union address to “make a strong pledge to fix our gun laws and shore up our background check system.”

Realistically, the odds of Congress passing any new gun control legislation are “zero,” says Pete Davis of Davis Capital Investment Ideas, a Washington commentator and author of the blog Capital Gains and Games.

“Look at the president – right after the shooting did he breathe a word about guns?” says Mr. Davis. “It is a total non-starter in the House and it would be filibustered in the Senate.”

Instead, he anticipates Obama will stick to talking about the need for civility in the State of the Union message: “He has already ducked the issue, he knows how contentious it is.”

To get passed, Bloomberg’s proposals would have to survive a battle with the National Rifle Association, a powerful lobby that represents the gun industry and gun owners.

To the NRA, Bloomberg and the mayors should be working with law enforcement agencies to enforce existing laws.

“His intention is to get in front of a camera and push an agenda of gun control,” says Andrew Arulanandam, director of public affairs at the NRA in Washington. “What is noteworthy is that the NRA is the entity that conceived the national check system.”

Mr. Arulanandam says the mayor should not blame the shooting in Tucson on a lack of gun control. “There were many instances where he [Loughner] should have been flagged,” he says, “Bloomberg is scapegoating law-abiding gun owners for political purposes.”

Bloomberg going grass roots

Bloomberg and the mayors’ group are aware of the political obstacles in Congress. But they are trying to mount a grass-roots effort to sway Congress. On Monday, part of the effort involved bringing in 34 Americans who had been shot or had members of their families killed. The symbolism of the number: according to Bloomberg everyday 34 Americans are murdered with guns – most of them purchased or possessed illegally.

Traveling to New York were people whose children or relatives were killed in the Virginia Tech massacre, the Columbine High School tragedy, and the 1993 Long Island Railroad shooting.

One of those was Omar Samaha, whose sister Reema was shot and killed at Virginia Tech. “That same gunman could still go to a gun show today and purchase guns without a check,” he says.

Many of the attendees had become gun-control activists after their children were shot. One of those is Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel was killed at Columbine, in Littleton, Colo. In 1999, he led a fight to require background checks for anyone buying a weapon at a gun show. Although the legislature refused to take up the issue, he got it on the ballot where it was approved by 70 percent of the voters.

“It showed that Americans can come together and close those kinds of loopholes,” says Mr. Mauser who symbolically wore his sons' shoes to the event.

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