Bloomberg plans challenge to pro-gun lobby

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iol pic wld_USA-GUNS-BLOOMBERG_0416_11 Reuters Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. File picture: Kevin Lamarque

New York - Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he will spend $50-million this year on a new group that will mix campaign contributions with field operations aimed at pulling gun-control supporters to the polls in the November midterm elections and beyond.

His new organisation, Everytown for Gun Safety, plans to mobilise voters to back candidates and ballot measures supporting such causes as enhancing background checks for gun-buyers, according to a news release. It will focus particularly on women voters, especially mothers.

“This new organisation will bring more people into the fight against gun violence, which affects every town in America,” Bloomberg said in a statement on Wednesday.

Everytown aims to sign up one million new supporters this year, said the group's president, John Feinblatt.

America's most powerful pro-gun lobby group, the National Rifle Association, said it would respond to the announcement at its annual meeting next week in Indianapolis.

Gun control is a fiercely divisive issue in the United States, where the right to bear arms is enshrined in the Constitution, alongside such basic rights as free speech and freedom of religion.

President Barack Obama's plan for broader background checks for gun purchases, along with proposals for a ban on military-style assault rifles and limits on ammunition capacity, failed last year in Congress.

Pro-gun control politicians and activists had hoped the time was right for such measures in the wake of the massacre of 20 children and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

But most Republicans lawmakers, and many Democrats from states with strong pro-gun sentiments, remain opposed to stricter firearms laws.

“Twelve months later, Congress still hasn't done anything,” Feinblatt said.

An Associated Press-GfK poll in December found 52 percent of Americans favoured stricter gun laws, 31 percent wanted them left as they are and 15 percent said they should be loosened.

Bloomberg, whose last term as New York City mayor ended in January, said gun control advocates need to learn from the tactics of the NRA and punish politicians who fail to support their agenda, including Democrats. The group also plans to issue candidate questionnaires and scorecards.

Bloomberg has used a combination of his wealth and his stature as the 12-year mayor of the nation's biggest city to become one of the country's most formidable gun control activist. He made nearly $14 million in federal campaign contributions for gun-control candidates in the 2012 elections.

Events kicking off Everytown's creation were scheduled in towns across the United States, including Tucson, Arizona, and Denver, Colorado, the sites of high-profile shootings in recent years.

“Moms need to know that when they drop their kids off at school, they're learning math and science, not how to duck and cover from gunfire,” Shannon Watts, who founded the pro-gun control group Moms Demand Action a day after the Newtown shooting, said in a statement. She later told reporters: “Before this, the voice of moms was completely missing from this debate.”

Watts, who also is a member of Everytown's advisory board, said the organisation also would push for a wide variety of laws.

“This isn't just about background checks. We're also looking at things like domestic violence and laws that keeps guns out of the hands of domestic abusers,” she said. “We're going to look at laws to keep guns out of the hands of children, and how to store them safely.”

Bloomberg said his new group's strategy will focus on expanding the background check system for gun buyers at the state and national levels. The group will look closely at 15 states, including Texas and others where gun control initiatives have advanced.

During his time as mayor, Bloomberg's administration set up gun-buying stings in other states to highlight what it said were illegal sales. He and former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which spread its message through such means as a $12 million ad campaign last year; the group is now part of Everytown for Gun Safety.

Bloomberg was sometimes criticised for butting into other people's politics, and gun-rights groups have portrayed him as overreaching and out of touch with the views of millions of gun owners.

On hearing of Bloomberg's new initiative, Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, told the Times: “He's got the money to waste. So I guess he's free to do so.”

Pratt didn't immediately return a call on Wednesday. - Sapa-AP


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