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Political Report: The Bloomberg Treatment

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Well, here we go again.

That’s what goes through my mind every time a state lawmaker, governor or regulatory agency comes begging for a fight over restrictive gun control schemes. And we’re in the thick of the season right now—perhaps even in your state capital. In the majority of states, legislative sessions convene now and continue for several months over the spring and early summer.

Like spring flowers, the gun control debate blooms each year in a predictable roster of states. It’s hard to figure out why the gun-ban lobby picks some of these battles. They’ll muster in the most unlikely of states, where enormous concentrations of gun owners and hunters stack the deck against them.

Pennsylvania is a good example. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh do not Pennsylvania make. But even in states that are overwhelmingly rural, politicians from the cities develop an attitude that their district is more important than any given rural district. They often join together to press gun control schemes that have already been rejected by the majority of lawmakers.

The annals of political history are littered with careers cut short by a reflexive, media-driven embrace of gun control.

These big city politicians want the tail to wag the dog. But that’s just not how politics works. Lawmakers in any given state are elected to represent their own constituents. If they want to keep their jobs, they vote in line with the district. The annals of political history are littered with careers cut short by a reflexive, media-driven embrace of gun control.

But some politicians don’t seem to be listening. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg got a crash course earlier this year, when he thought he had orchestrated the “perfect storm” to repeal privacy protections for firearms trace data. He was stunned when members of Congress politely heard his case, and then voted overwhelmingly against his wishes—but in perfect accordance with the wishes of their constituents.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell shares common elements of the Bloomberg case history. He once served as mayor of Philadelphia, and he was also the genesis of the baseless lawsuits filed by cities against the firearm industry. Philadelphia’s lawsuit was not the first, but the cases’ legal theories came directly from research performed for Rendell by a law professor from Temple University in Philadelphia.

Rendell cooled his gun control jets when he ran for statewide office, but it didn’t take long to re-light them. The spark came from Philadelphia, which has experienced a surge of violence this year. The city’s inability to reduce crime is easily explained by the city’s failures in enforcement and prosecution. But Philly’s politicians needed somewhere to point their fingers, and they found their target in the Second Amendment rights of all Pennsylvanians. They demanded a platform for consideration of their pet gun control proposals, and Rendell was happy to lend his bully pulpit. Rendell even appeared before the state legislature in person to demand passage of the Philadelphia gun control agenda.

Mind you, there was nothing new or unique about these proposals. They included the rationing of rights in the form of one-gun-per-month purchase limitations, the repeal of Pennsylvania’s 1995 state preemption law so cities could enact their own gun restrictions and a proposal to criminalize gun owners whose guns are stolen.

Rendell descended on the legislature in a full-scale rant. “Nobody tells the truth,” said Rendell, adding his opinion that pro-gun lawmakers were “brainwashed or threatened into submission,” according to the Philadelphia Daily News. He demanded that legislators get “some backbone.”

You can guess what happened. The legislators patiently listened to the mayor, and then gave him the “Bloomberg Treatment.” They voted down his agenda after hearing from constituents. One lawmaker estimated that contacts to his office ran 1,000-to-10 against Rendell.

We will know we have succeeded when lawmakers in every state give the “Bloomberg Treatment” to every politician who pushes the anti-freedom agenda.

Here’s what made the difference in Pennsylvania, in the other side’s words. Rep. Dan Frankel, a longtime supporter of gun restrictions, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “There’s no political penalty for those who don’t support [gun control] measures, but there is a political penalty if they do.” A leader of the state anti-gun group told the same reporter, “We have our great role model out there in the NRA. They know how to do their job and mobilize people.”

Rendell had the last word, telling the reporter, “This is a marathon, not a sprint … we are not going to go away.” We’ll be ready and waiting to meet him head-on in Pennsylvania—just as we’re ready and waiting in every state legislature that is now going into session.

Our work is cut out for us in every state. We have to recruit, retain, mobilize and turn out more gun owners, hunters and, in the end, more voters. Now is the time to tune into your state legislature and stand up and be counted when anti-gun, anti-hunting proposals are under debate.

We will know we have succeeded when lawmakers in every state give the “Bloomberg Treatment” to every politician who pushes the anti-freedom agenda.

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