Reducing the criminal misuse of firearms is a goal shared by all Americans, including the firearms industry. But New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg would have people think he’s the only one addressing the issue.
Bloomberg has made cracking down on illegal guns a focus of his second term. With the media lavishing attention on him, the mayor has denounced the firearms industry and disparaged federal law enforcement.
The firearms industry believes some aspects of the mayor’s initiative have merit—namely enhanced law enforcement efforts resulting in a 14% increase in gun arrests this year. Not all of his actions are worthy of praise, however, and most can rightly be called political grandstanding.
The mayor kicked off his initiative by co-hosting with Boston Mayor Tom Menino a “National Summit on Illegal Guns” but rebuffed industry requests to educate mayors in attendance about our longstanding cooperative efforts with law enforcement to reduce criminal misuse of firearms, including an award-winning program designed to deter illegal purchases. Called “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy,” the program is a partnership between the firearms industry and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the agency charged by Congress with regulating firearm commerce.
The rebuff was surprising considering the city of Boston, in dismissing its failing lawsuit against our industry, told a court that members of the firearms community “are genuinely concerned with and are committed to the safe, legal and responsible sale and distribution and use of their products."
Not surprising, but nevertheless disappointing, was the fact the mayors permitted hardcore anti-gun groups to make presentations at the summit.
One reason for the rebuff is that the mayor is continuing a federal lawsuit against firearms manufacturers. Never mind that Congress passed legislation last year barring such “junk” lawsuits that seek to hold firearms manufactures legally responsible for the criminal misuse of guns.
Next the mayor misused gun trace data from ATF to target out-of-state gun dealers for civil lawsuits, based simply on the number of firearms they had sold and that were later traced by ATF.
The fact that a gun is “traced” does not mean a gun dealer did anything wrong, any more than a car dealer did anything wrong when the vehicle he sold winds up being used in a crime. The mayor appears to be confused about this. In congressional testimony Bloomberg made the false assertion that every firearm traced by law enforcement was the consequence of a "bad" sale by a firearms dealer.
ATF points out that it is "misleading to suggest that a gun dealer is corrupt because a large percentage of the guns sold in his store are subsequently used in crime.” Other factors, says ATF, come into play, including high volume of sales, the type of inventory carried, and whether the gun is located in a high-crime area.
Far worse, the mayor sent private investigators to “catch” and film firearms dealers participating in “simulated straw purchases.” It’s important to note that the mayor’s “sting” operations—done without the knowledge of ATF or his own police department—actually interfered with as many as 18 ongoing criminal investigations, jeopardizing the lives of law enforcement officers, dealers and witnesses. At the press conference announcing the dealer lawsuits, the mayor insulted ATF by calling it “asleep at the switch.” He also promised to turn over the tapes so ATF could investigate the dealers. Ironically, he’s now stonewalling that investigation by refusing to give ATF the tapes. Perhaps it’s because ATF has announced it will investigate the conduct of the mayor’s private investigators too.
Meanwhile, ATF remains on the job. Recently, the U.S. attorney in Norfolk, Va., announced an indictment of 11 individuals arising out of a joint ATF—NYPD multi-year undercover investigation of illegal trafficking of guns to New York City—just the type of dangerous investigation the mayor’s ill-considered publicity stunt interfered with.
Concern for law enforcement is why groups like the Fraternal Order of Police support legislation (H.R. 5005), opposed by Bloomberg, which would limit access to gun trace data to law enforcement. Also opposed by Bloomberg is legislation (H.R. 5092) that would further empower ATF by giving them the authority to not only revoke licenses but to also issue fines and suspend dealers’ licenses. This is authority long sought by the agency.
If Mayor Bloomberg is truly interested in reducing the criminal misuse of firearms—rather than grandstanding—he ought to engage in a constructive dialogue with the firearms industry. Our industry remains committed to cooperation but does not hold out much hope given the overheated rhetoric from City Hall.