In anticipation of President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech this week in which analysts expect Mr. Obama to mention the recent mass shooting in Arizona, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg renewed his call for enforcement of federal gun control laws, including background checks of people purchasing firearms. Bloomberg was joined at a press conference on Monday by family members and friends of gunshot victims, and by gun control activists.
Family members and friends of gun violence victims gathered at the New York City Hall rotunda to explain their support for Mayor Michael Bloomberg in calling for more funding and rigorous enforcement of federal laws that require background checks on anyone attempting to purchase a gun.
"I lost my son, Liddell Bert, on December 4, 2010 to gun violence. I am part of a group of mothers of murdered children and I am here to find a solution so my group can become extinct," said one woman.
According to Mayor Bloomberg, 34 Americans are killed every day by guns. The first major federal gun control legislation in the United States was passed in 1968 in the wake of the assassinations of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed into law the so-called Brady Bill that requires background checks for those wishing to buy a gun. But critics charge that the law has been weakly enforced.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition that Mayor Bloomberg helped found, cites as an example the fact that 10 states have not submitted mental health records to the national system. They say that background checks at gun shows can be easy to avoid.
Bloomberg admits the reality of gun violence can seem remote to many law abiding Americans, and that it once seemed that way to him too. "I don’t think it ever hit home in my case until the first time I had to go to a hospital and tell a parent that their son or daughter was never going to come home. And I don’t think any of us, unless the tragedy is in your family or you are there first hand and get drawn into it, can truly understand what it means," he said.
The mayor supports lawful gun use for hunting, target practice and other sports activities. But he scoffs at those who claim that gun control measures are unconstitutional.
"No rational person thinks you should be able to sell a rifle that is advertised as being able to bring down a commercial airliner. Nobody thinks we should be selling armor piercing bullets. You don’t need that if you are going out and hunting deer or elk. Nobody thinks we should be out there selling guns to who are drug addicts or mentally deranged or are minors or have criminal records. And the laws on the books say you can’t. The difference is that Congress has been unwilling to fix it. Washington’s got to do that, and we call on the president to lead that charge the way President Johnson did," he said.
Not everyone at the City Hall event focused on legislative remedies to the problem of gun violence. Martin Luther King III, the son of the slain civil rights leader, joined grassroots leaders who decried the violence in America’s entertainment culture. He cited a study showing that six out of ten cartoons and feature films contain violence, as do seven out of ten video games.
"And we don’t understand why our society is violent? Until we change what we consume - not censorship, [but] self-censorship - then we are not going to address this issue in this country that we all love," he said. "But we can have a culture of nonviolence. My father would say, ‘The time is now.’"
Mayor Bloomberg and those at the City Hall press conference expressed the hope that President Obama will address the issue of gun violence during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. They said the time is ripe for action as emotions continue to run high in the wake of a January 8 shootings spree in Tucson, Arizona, in which 13 people were injured, and six people were killed.