Colby Hamilton, Writer, WNYC News
Colby Hamilton is a general assignment reporter. He originally joined WNYC as a political blogger. He's a proud graduate of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
It was a grim opportunity, but the mass shooting in Colorado last week gave Mayor Michael Bloomberg a chance to speak passionately about one of his key issues: gun violence.
In a his most strongly worded statement since the shooting last week, Bloomberg suggested on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight" on Monday that police should go on strike until tougher gun laws are imposed.
"I don't understand why the police officers across this country don't stand up collectively and say we're going to go on strike," Bloomberg said. "We're not going to protect you unless you, the public, through your legislature, do what's required to keep us safe."
On Tuesday, the mayor walked back his statements, saying he “didn’t mean literally go on strike,” but was highlighting the dangers cop faced without stricter gun laws.
“They’re the ones that get killed and they have families,” Bloomberg said. “I’ve been to too many funerals for police officers in the last 10 years.”
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the statement was made out of "frustration" by the mayor.
"The frustrating we all feel that there is inadequate gun control in this country," he said.
Meanwhile, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took a shot issue with the push by Bloomberg and others have made for gun control just days after the shooting in Denver, saying it is "not the appropriate time to be grandstanding about gun laws."
But the mayor has continued his push for the presidential candidates to get beyond what he says are "just platitudes," and act to enforce stricter gun laws in the nation, a cause he has championed for years.
“It’s not unreasonable to say, ‘What, are you going to do about it, and not just platitudes,’” Bloomberg said. “And people say, ‘oh, well, now’s not the time because we’re mourning.’ Well, it’s been 16, 18 months since the Arizona massacre and we’ve done nothing. If not now, when?”
Speaking to reporters at a health clinic on Manhattan’s Lower East Side on Monday, Bloomberg walked the rhetorical tightrope between those concerned about their Second Amendment rights and those — like him — who want curbs on what can be bought and sold by focusing on the responsibility he has for keeping everyone safe.
“We have to obey everybody’s rights, but if you don’t have the right to go out on the street without worrying about yourself being shot, a lot of the other stuff [is]…not really that important,” he said.
Bloomberg occupies a rare space in the gun debate. He’s a moderate independent, initially elected as a Republican. He’s tough on crime, as evidenced by the controversial stop-and-frisk police policy. He’s a billionaire who doesn’t need to worry about offending a potential non-profit or political donor.
This freedom, so to speak, has allowed him to become one of the nation’s leading voices on gun control — even if he bristles at the term. He prefers “crime control.”
“I think it is incredibly important that he keeps speaking out on this,” said Richard Aborn, the former Manhattan District Attorney candidate. Aborn’s been an outspoken proponent for stricter gun control laws for years. He was formerly the president of the Brady Campaign, which successfully passed legislation establishing the national gun purchaser background check and the non-defunct ban on the sale of assault rifles.
“[Bloomberg] is calling on the president and the presumptive Republican nominee to address this issue, and calling on Congress, and they are the people that have the power,” Aborn said.
Bloomberg appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday to press both presidential candidates for details on how they would approach what he has called “a scourge.”
“Governor Romney, when he was governor of Massachusetts, actually passed a ban on assault weapons. And President Obama, when he came into office in 2008, said he would reinstitute the ban—the federal ban—on assault weapons,” Bloomberg said on the show. “The governor has apparently changed his views and the president has spent the last three years trying to avoid the issue, or if he’s facing it I don’t know anybody that’s seen him facing it. And it’s time for both of them to be called—held accountable.”
With the end of his time as mayor coming sooner rather than later, Bloomberg’s long-standing work on the issue — he co-founded the nationwide group Mayors Against Illegal Guns back in 2006 — suggests, mayor or not, his commitment to reducing gun violence will continue into the indefinite future.
To wit: when asked on Monday whether he was frustrated that his efforts hadn’t moved the issue further in his preferred direction, Bloomberg responded through parable.
“There’s an old story about a good salesman is a salesman that when somebody slams the door in their face, they just get it out of their mind and they go next door,” he said. “A great salesman is, they get it out of their mind and they know they’re going to make the sale next door. A brilliant salesman is somebody who re-knocks on the same door. And that’s what we gotta do.”
With the Associated Press