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Shaping the gun-control debate

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John R. Lott Jr. is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center in Washington, D.C. He spoke to the Trib regarding former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's pledge to commit $50 million of his personal fortune toward his new gun control organization, Everytown for Gun Safety.

Q: Bloomberg is making headlines for his $50 million commitment, but isn't that just a drop in the bucket compared to what he has already spent on anti-gun efforts?

A: The $50 million is just for this latest organization that he has. He has two other groups that already exist — Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action (for Gun Sense in America) — and he is pretty much funding those entirely.

Plus, he's literally spending hundreds of millions of dollars on gun-control research. He gave $250 million about a year ago to the (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) to hire 50 academics. Most of them are primarily going to be focusing on gun-control research.

He's in for quite a bit. This $50 million is just the latest salvo.

Q: Do you think Bloomberg's latest investment in the gun-control movement will pay dividends?

A: The New York Times mentioned that in terms of political money, this $50 million is twice what the NRA spends annually, (so) my guess is that it will have impact. But whether (Everytown) actually ends up getting a lot of members, I don't know.

The NRA has over 5 million dues-paying members. Moms Demand Action doesn't release its membership rolls, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns has over 800 mayors. But that's only a little over 2 percent of the more than 35,000 mayors in the United States. And if you look at the list, the vast majority of the mayors they have are from very small communities.

But I think Bloomberg is in this for the long term, and for someone who has over $31 billion in wealth, even hundreds of millions of dollars is just a fairly small fraction of the (total) wealth that he has.

Q: Do you feel that Bloomberg was being disingenuous when he said this latest anti-gun push isn't meant to take anyone's gun away from them?

A: Yeah. I think that in his ideal world, the vast majority of people shouldn't be able to own guns. I say the vast majority because Bloomberg has 24-hour, around-the-clock armed bodyguards, so he thinks there must be some role for gun ownership.

But he is opposed to people being able to have permanent concealed handguns. He has supported laws across the country that have imposed fees and taxes on people (who buy) guns, which makes it very difficult for poor people, particularly minorities, to be able to own them.

So I think he would (like) to restrict gun ownership by others as much as possible.

Q: Bottom line: How concerned should the NRA and its members be over this latest effort by Bloomberg to limit access to guns?

A: Well, I don't think this new $50 million group is going to do it. I think the thing that's of greatest concern in the long run is the hundreds of millions of dollars he's spending trying to produce research to go and support his position.

I think Bloomberg believes that if he can kind of create a set of facts that are used in the media, he can go and eventually have an impact on the debate. My guess is that's probably going to have more of an impact (than Everytown).

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media (412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com).

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