Gyory: Bloomberg should pick his gun-control battles more carefully

Mayor Michael Bloomberg holds two guns, one a

Mayor Michael Bloomberg holds two guns, one a toy, left, and a real gun painted to look like a toy, right, during a news conference. (Credit: Alan Raia, 2006)

Monday's shooting spree at the Washington Navy Yard has brought gun violence back into focus, but there's been little talk this time of gun control. The politics underlying that particular debate took a significant turn last week, with the successful recall vote of two Colorado legislators. Triggered by Colorado's passage of a law stipulating background checks and reduced rounds for gun magazines, the recall targeted two of the new law's "yes" voters.

A statement on the National Rifle Association's website earlier this week said the organization was praying for Monday's victims. But the NRA was gloating last week after the recall, tweeting that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which helped fund groups fighting the recall, "might as well fold up."

The recall was a big change from February, when Bloomberg-funded TV ads in Illinois led to the victory of a gun-control advocate, Robin Kelly, in a special election for the House of Representatives.


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That appears to have been the high-water mark for the political potency of gun control in the wake of Newtown. In April, the Senate failed to pass the Manchin-Toomey compromise for expanding background checks. Then Bloomberg was criticized by pro-gun-control senators like Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) for targeting pro-gun Democrats from rural states for defeat. Implicit in Schumer and Leahy's critique: If Bloomberg were successful on this front, Republican replacements would oppose even putting gun-control bills on the floor.

The politics of gun control are driven by regionalism and demographics. In rural states, where land is rich and population sparse and hunting common, gun control is unpopular. But in densely populated metropolitan suburbs, with their relative affluence and higher-education based economic development, gun control legislation is popular.

That suggests a new strategy for Bloomberg. Instead of "folding his tent," let him focus his post-mayoral attention and resources on picking political battles he can win -- so that similarly situated members of Congress sense defeat if they don't listen to his views. Instead of targeting Democrats in rural states, Bloomberg and his group should pressure members of the House whose districts resemble seats on Long Island, especially Republicans.

After all, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) ousted an incumbent Republican in 1996 over his allegiance to the NRA when the memories of Colin Ferguson's 1993 LIRR massacre were still raw. And the prime advocate of gun control in Albany is Assemb. Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck).

So Bloomberg should strike closer to home, encouraging key Republicans in the House, such as Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), to support background checks. And urging legislators in Albany, such as Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), to support microstamping of bullets to make them easier to trace. Bloomberg should create zones in the nation's suburbs where legislators will fear being associated with the NRA.

When New York State passed Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act in January, none of Long Island's Republican senators voted against the bill. Bloomberg should spread from strength, carefully calibrating opportunities for political victories in areas where gun control is seen as a public safety measure rather than an abridgment of liberty. Not only would his batting average improve, but legislators from other states and areas with similar political demographics would notice.

Bloomberg should follow Machiavelli's admonition that a wise prince must be both a lion and a fox. Lately, by attacking rural Democrats, Bloomberg has been too much the lion, roaring to no effect, while he needs to be more of the cunning fox, choosing his battles wisely and avoiding political traps.

To advance gun control, Bloomberg should bring his inner fox to the search for victories, to create a fitting commemoration for the tragedies at Newtown and the Navy Yard.

Bruce N. Gyory is a consultant with Corning Place Communications and an adjunct professor of political science at the University at Albany.

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