WASHINGTON - Two of the loudest voices in the gun debate say it's up to voters now to make their position known to Congress.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre claim their opposing views on guns have the support of the overwhelming number of Americans. They are looking at the next two weeks as critical to the debate, when lawmakers head home to hear from constituents ahead of next month's anticipated Senate vote on gun control.
Bloomberg, a former Republican-turned-independent, has just sunk $12 million for Mayors Against Illegal Guns to run television ads and phone banks in 13 states urging voters to tell their senators to pass legislation requiring universal background checks for gun buyers.
"We demanded a plan and then we demanded a vote. We've got the plan. We're going to get the vote. And now it's incumbent on us to make our voices heard," Bloomberg said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that legislation would likely be debated in his chamber next month that will include expanded federal background checks, tougher laws and stiffer sentences for gun trafficking and increased school safety grants. A ban on assault-style weapons was dropped from the bill, fearing it would sink the broader bill. But Reid has said that he would allow the ban to be voted on separately as an amendment. President Obama called for a vote on the assault weapons ban in his radio and Internet address Saturday.
Recalling the horrific shooting three months ago at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 20 first-graders and six school administrators dead, Bloomberg said it would be a great tragedy if Congress, through inaction, lost the moment to make the country safer from gun violence. Bloomberg said that 90 percent of Americans and 80 percent of NRA members support universal background checks for gun purchases.
"I don't think there's ever been an issue where the public has spoken so clearly, where Congress hasn't eventually understood and done the right thing," Bloomberg said.
But the NRA's LaPierre countered that universal background checks are "a dishonest premise." For example, mental health records are exempt from databases and criminals won't submit to the checks. Background checks, he said, are a "speed bump" in the system.
LaPierre slammed Bloomberg for the ad buy. "He's going to find out this is a country of the people, by the people and for the people. And he can't spend enough of his $27 billion to try to impose his will on the American public," LaPierre said. "He can't buy America."