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Mayor's promise on guns is noble

Just when I'm ready to give up on the Democratic Party as

the befuddled servant to a million greedy interest groups, along come the

Republicans to show us what cravenness really means.

Today's story starts with Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, crime

fighter, nominal Republican and formidable enemy of illegal street guns. Since

his resounding re-election victory last fall, the mayor has begun to assemble a

spirited national gun-control crusade.

A noble cause, you say?

I'd say so. But for all his trouble, the New York Post reported recently,

the mayor's own party has responded like a crowd of churlish oafs wholly owned

by the National Rifle Association. So angry is the NRA with his effort, says

the Post, it quietly killed the nomination of his girlfriend, Diana Taylor, to

head the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Although the NRA officially denies this tale, it rings true enough to me.

The group has been on Bloomberg's case for a while now, denouncing his

"rantings" on its Web site and suggesting that he's really just trying deflect

blame instead of fixing the city's justice system so repeat offenders can't

"continue their mayhem."

Of course, one way to ensure that repeat offenders don't wreak mayhem is to

keep guns out of their hands - but never mind. This dispute isn't about logic

any more than the stem-cell dispute is about science. It's about the power of

an interest group to impede what looks to most of us like genuine public

progress.

In his inaugural speech last month, Bloomberg spoke of a duty that rises

above politics "to rid our streets of guns, and punish all those who possess

and traffic in these instruments of death." He promised to take his cause "to

Albany, to Washington and to every capital of every state that permits guns to

flow freely across its borders."

This is a big deal. A decade ago, the NYPD matched computers with

shoe-leather police work to help kick crime rates into a free fall. Against the

conventional wisdom, the NYPD showed how tough and informed policing

techniques can play a major role in controlling crime.

We've grown used to the results. Suburbanites and international visitors

alike have discovered New York City as something other than a place to avoid.

New housing and new businesses infuse life into neighborhoods once given up for

dead. It's suddenly possible to dream yet again of a metropolitan region - of

a core city and its surrounding suburbs - that function not as warring camps

but as a healthy and coherent whole. But for how much longer can crime rates

stay low?

Drugs are still out there. Guns are still out there. For all the new

ability of police forces everywhere, violent crime rates could start to rise

again. In some cities they already have. But when it comes to guns, we know

where the choke points lie.

Eighty-two percent of the city's "crime guns" come from out of state, says

John Fein-blatt, the mayor's criminal justice coordinator. And nationally, he

says, 1 percent of gun dealers account for 60 percent of all crime guns. It's

no wonder Bloomberg would want to shut them down.

Why would the NRA object? And why - if you choose to believe the New York

Post - would the Bush administration and Congress listen to its caviling?

The NRA objects for the same reason that the United Federation of Teachers

and its Democratic minions in Albany break out in a cold sweat whenever the

subject turns to charter schools or vouchers or merit pay. Reform means

inconvenience to the members. Reform means uncertainty. And these high-powered

outfits have the scratch to stop it.

Can anyone win against them? It doesn't hurt that Bloomberg is worth

billions. He doesn't have to cower to anyone. But I'm not holding my breath.

While he has four more years in office, the NRA - like the UFT - is forever.

Joseph Dolman's e-mail address is nycdolman@aol.com.

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