NRA targets Mayor Bloomberg

October 8, 2009 7:21:30 AM PDT
Mayor Bloomberg is the target of an ad campaign by the National Rifle Association. The ads, which air in Virginia, are designed to hit back in the ongoing battle the mayor's been waging over illegal gun sales.

The mayor is working to put an end to sale of illegal guns.

And now comes this ad, said to be part of a $500,000 campaign by the NRA.

The ad features the "stereotypical wise-guy" from the Big Apple who suggests voters not elect gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell, a gun rights activist.

The mayor is on the NRA's hit list after trying to shut down Virginia gun dealers who have been selling guns illegally. He released his own ad in April slamming McDonnell for not supporting tougher gun laws.

Bloomberg, saying he hadn't seen the NRA ad, declined to be anyone's crony.

"I'll leave Virginia politics to worry about Virginia and let's just worry about the politics here," Bloomberg said.

The NRA ad is timely, just Wednesday the mayor announced the results of an undercover investigation of illegal gun sales at gun shows.

Investigators hired by New York City conducted stings at gun shows in states that have not closed the "gun show loophole" and found some vendors openly selling weapons to buyers who admitted they couldn't pass background checks.

The mayor is furious about the gun show loophole.

"We have to protect the people of this city today and we're just not going to wait around for anybody else," Bloomberg said.

The undercover gun sales happened outside of New York, but the mayor says that is how many guns get into the city.

More on the NYC sting of illegal gun sales

The stings, described in a city report released Wednesday, were conducted at seven gun shows in Tennessee, Ohio and Nevada. Those states are among the many that permit private unlicensed dealers, known as "occasional sellers," to sell weapons at gun shows without conducting background checks.

Gun-control advocates say the loophole makes it easier for criminals to acquire guns and prevents law enforcement from being able to trace those weapons if they are used in crimes.

Nine states, including New York, have passed laws to close the loophole, requiring background checks on at least all handgun purchases at gun shows. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has long campaigned for Congress to close it, and for states to do it on their own if the federal government does not.

Even in states that haven't closed the loophole, federal law bars "occasional sellers" from selling guns to people they have reason to believe would fail background checks.

This is where the Bloomberg operation says 19 out of 30 sellers broke the law during the investigation, in which undercover buyers wore tiny cameras concealed in baseball hats and purses and audio recorders hidden in wristwatches.

In each purchase, the investigator showed interest in buying a gun, agreed on a price and then indicated that he probably could not pass a background check. Most sellers allowed the purchases anyway, responding in some cases by saying, "I couldn't pass one either," or "I don't care," according to the city's report.

Two assault rifles and 20 semiautomatic handguns were bought this way, the report said.

The 11 dealers who refused sales showed they knew the law.

"Once you say that, I'm kind of obligated not to," said one seller, according to the report. "I think that's what the rules are."

"Fact is, you done told me too much," said another who refused. "I wouldn't sell one to you at all."

The city has no legal authority over the dealers and is using its findings to make a point. A copy of the report is being sent to every member of Congress and the findings will be shared the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"The gun show loophole is a deadly serious problem, and this undercover operation exposes just how pervasive and serious it is," the mayor said in a statement.

One of the shows - the Bill Goodman Gun & Knife Show - was held the Hara Conference & Exhibition Center in Dayton, Ohio. Hara spokeswoman Karen Wampler said the arena is unaware of any violations involving licensed dealers at the show, in which there were weapons checks at the entrance and a strong presence of ATF agents.

Wampler said any evidence of dealer wrongdoing should be turned over to the ATF, and that the show's promoter has assured arena officials that any violators would be immediately removed from the show. A message left with promoter Dave Goodman wasn't immediately returned.

The undercover operation took place from about May to August and its $1.5 million cost was paid by city taxpayers. The city hired a team of 40 private investigators from an outside firm to make the purchases.

The sting comes three years after Bloomberg's administration conducted a similar operation focusing on illegal straw purchases at gun shops in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia that authorities believe were responsible for selling guns used in crimes in New York City. (A straw purchase is when one person fills out the paperwork and buys the gun for somebody else.)

Bloomberg's administration brought a civil case against 27 gun dealers targeted in its 2006 investigation.

As a result of the suit, 20 dealers are being monitored by a court-appointed special master. One is out of business, two more are expected to be put under monitoring agreements and three were dropped from the suit. A final dealer settled with the city but the terms did not include a monitor.

Investigators in this year's sting also attempted straw purchases at gun shows, and were successful 16 out of 17 times.

The city said it was not planning civil action this time around.

(Information from WABC-TV and the Associated Press)

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