Bloomberg's Mayoral Gun Group Losing Members

fromWNYC

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, led by New York's Michael Bloomberg, is losing members after the National Rifle Association mounted a campaign against the group. The NRA and various gun proponents contend that the mayors' efforts represent a slippery slope.

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Mayors Against Illegal Guns, led by New York's Michael Bloomberg, is losing members after the National Rifle Association mounted a campaign against the group. The NRA and other gun proponents contend that the mayors' efforts represent a slippery slope.

WNYC's Arun Venugopal reports.

ARUN VENUGOPAL: Pennsylvania has about 100 members in Mayors Against Illegal Guns, by far the most of any state. But in the last few weeks, nearly a dozen of Pennsylvania's mayors have quit the coalition. One of them is Walter Niedermeyer, mayor of the town of Slatington. Niedermeyer left the group after the NRA sent flyers to his constituents.

Mayor WALTER NIEDERMEYER (Slatington, Pennsylvania): They sent me these letters. They called me up, asked me, please get off it. So I figure these are the people that vote. These are the people I work with. These are the people I support, too, so Ill do what they want me to do.

VENUGOPAL: The group's name, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, seems self-explanatory. The mayors say they want to stop criminals from getting guns while protecting the rights of citizens to own them. But opponents suspect the group ultimately wants to go after lawful gun owners as well. And they point to the main force behind the group, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who spent nearly $3 million of his own money on its activities.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

VENUGOPAL: At the Ridge and Valley Rod and Gun Club in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, some members are actively opposing members of the coalition.

Mark Epstein(ph) has brought his AR223 semi-automatic rifle to the shooting range.

Mr. MARK EPSTEIN: The thing with the mayor and that coalition, not that it's affecting us yet, but it could affect us if any of those laws go through.

VENUGOPAL: By that he means any regulations that would make Pennsylvania resemble a state with stricter gun laws, like New York.

The NRA has featured Bloomberg in a variety of media materials, including magazine articles, online news updates and this recent TV ad it ran in connection with the Virginia governor's race.

(Soundbite of TV ad)

Unidentified Man: He's Bob McDonnell, defending Virginia's freedom from whoever tries to take it away, even if its the New York mayor and his cronies.

VENUGOPAL: Mayor Bloomberg downplays the NRA's campaign against him and the defections from the mayors coalition. Those whove left, he says, are mostly from small towns. And for the 60 whove quit since the NRA began its campaign, the group says another 110 have joined.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York City): The growth is as good as it's ever been. And I think you're going to see once - eventually you get critical mass -and then a lot of mayors will join, and they're going to say to the NRA, come on, you know, this is craziness.

VENUGOPAL: Last year, Bloomberg announced that the mayors' coalition had developed a code of conduct with Wal-Mart, the country's largest gun retailer. Wal-Mart agreed to videotape gun sales at its 3,500 stores and to conduct background checks on store clerks. The coalition has also been working to close the so-called gun show loophole, which allows some buyers to avoid background checks. But the NRA says such efforts are the first steps down a slippery slope.

Rachel Parsons is an NRA spokesperson.

Ms. RACHEL PARSONS (Spokesperson, National Rifle Association): They have lobbied Congress time after time for more restrictive gun control legislation. And we think that if their constituents do not agree with that, then they are not representing those who put them in office.

VENUGOPAL: But for gun control advocates, the mayors' coalition has become a useful and well-funded ally.

Paul Helmke is the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Mr. PAUL HELMKE (President, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence): I really feel that it's been one of the most significant things that help affect the debate on gun violence prevention, in a number of years.

VENUGOPAL: Others, however, say it's too early to make a call. John Bruce is a political scientist at the University of Mississippi. He says the mayors' group has begun to influence the debate. But he says its real hurdle is Congress, where gun laws are written.

For NPR News, Im Arun Venugopal.

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