Only hours after Mayor Bloomberg vowed in his second inaugural address to launch a national campaign against "illegal guns," the gun rights lobby is mobilizing to respond, with the influential National Rifle Association accusing the mayor of "intimidating law abiding Americans."
On Sunday, as Mr. Bloomberg was sworn in for his second term, he invoked the names of police officers shot and killed in the line of duty as he announced a new, central focus of his administration - protecting New Yorkers from what he called "the scourge of illegal guns" by taking a message for tougher gun laws to "Albany, to Washington, and to every capital of every state that permits guns to flow freely across its border." He called it the city's "most urgent challenge."
The administration has yet to provide concrete details of its new approach, though it seems to involve asking other states to adopt and enforce New York-style laws requiring the registration and licensing of all handguns. But the ambiguity of the city's new gun agenda hasn't stopped Second Amendment proponents from beginning to fight back.
"I think Mayor Bloomberg ought to focus on New York City, given that that's his area of responsibility. He has challenges over there because he has misplaced priorities," the director of public affairs at the National Rifle Association, Andrew Arulanandam, said. "Rather than focusing on enacting more gun control laws that only affect law abiding citizens, he should make sure that criminals pay the harshest penalties for breaking the law."
When asked if the rifle association is intimidated by Mr. Bloomberg's newly aggressive posture, Mr. Arulanandam said: "We take every threat towards the rights of law abiding Americans seriously, but we think the mayor would be better served if he would put his financial muscle and the muscle of his office toward cracking down on criminals, not on intimidating law abiding Americans."
Jacob Rieper, the legislative director for the rifle association's New York State affiliate, the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, said he expects Mr. Bloomberg will meet substantial national opposition.
"He just doesn't have the clout to carry this to other states. Other states outside of New York are getting rid of their gun control laws. New York City is the only one still trying to keep hope alive that criminals are going to pay attention to their laws," he said.
Mr. Rieper added that Mr. Bloomberg seems to be saying "the entire United States is wrong and we're right," and said that attitude would not endear him to lawmakers outside of New York.
A retired journalism professor who sells antique and collectable firearms at his antique shop in Montgomery, N.Y., Glenn Doty, said the last thing he wants as the father of two police officers are illegal guns on the streets. But, he said, that doesn't mean the Bloomberg administration should pursue a legislative remedy to gun violence.
"A crackdown on the sale of illegal firearms is just fine with me. The problem that always seems to happen as soon as the politicians decide to crack down on illegal guns is they pass laws that harm people who own the guns legally," he said.
While Mr. Doty said it seems New York gun laws are already harsh enough, he said he would support an effort to go after straw purchasers - those who buy guns in states with more relaxed gun laws and resell them in New York. He also said he would support other states adopting New York's standard that requires people buying guns at gun shows to undergo the same criminal background checks required for sales at federally licensed gun stores.
Still, he said, it seems that a lot of progress could be accomplished though stricter federal monitoring of gun sales and enforcing current regulations rather than enacting new laws.
A professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida State University, Gary Kleck, dismissed Mr. Bloomberg's new agenda and said, "Politically, it's dead in the water."
"The trend in recent years is the exact opposite direction," he said. "Republicans basically like more punishment for criminals, so the only type of gun control they favor is heavier penalties for crimes with guns or even heavier penalties for carrying illegal guns."
In recent years Congress has passed laws forbidding lawsuits against those who manufacture guns and making it harder to gain access to gun sales data. The Bloomberg administration says the data privacy law makes it harder for law enforcement officials to trace guns for crime prevention purposes.
Mr. Kleck, who is a nationally renowned authority on the study of guns, said, "The underlying flaw in the reasoning is its supply-side orientation. It's trying to reduce gun violence by reducing the supply of guns."
Mr. Kleck said a "demand-side strategy" characterized by going after criminals and making it risky to own a gun would be a more effective approach.
Despite early signs that Mr. Bloomberg's newly announced goal will face resistance, his effort is being greeted with support from gun control advocates.
"What the mayor's called for is exactly what we've been trying to highlight for a number of years," the executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, Jackie Kuhls, said. "I think that he is in a very good position to influence national lawmakers and certainly current national office holders. He's contributed personally to the campaigns of some of these people. Also, he's the mayor of one of the biggest cities and the city that's most affected by illegal guns from other states."
Ms. Kuhls added that Mr. Bloomberg's speech Sunday should serve as a "wake-up call" to states that supply illegal guns to New York.
City Council Member David Yassky, who helped enact the gun control law known as the Brady Bill when he was working as an aide to then Rep. Charles Schumer, said he is "excited" about the new Bloomberg agenda.
Mr. Yassky said toughening gun laws nationally would not be easy, but he said, "I think he's in a good position to get real results. Really what we need is for Congress to change course. They've been loosening restrictions on the gun industry. They need to tighten restrictions."
He said as a "prominent Republican" the mayor might be able to "hold others in his party accountable for their wrong decisions on guns."
Mr. Yassky said the mayor should articulate his goals publicly and also actively publicize Police Department gun-tracing data so that everyone can better understand the impact of gun violence.
"Americans are good-hearted people," he said. "If they can be made to understand that their laws are creating a serious gun problem in New York City, I think they'll take that seriously."
The chief trial lawyer representing New York City in a lawsuit against gun manufacturers, Michael S. Elkin of Thelen Reid & Priest, said, "It's really important for individual municipalities to play a significant role. The national agenda is really influenced by the National Rifle Association, and they have significant hold or control over both the executive branch and members of Congress."
Mr. Elkin said he thinks legislative reform will be left largely to local and state governments.
While he said the rifle association would provide a serious challenge to the mayor's initiative, he said, "There is ample room for other local municipalities and state governments to take proactive steps to reduce the illegal firearm sales."
According to police statistics, there were 3,303 gun-related arrests last year, up from 2,894 in 2004. Shooting incidents also rose to 1,534 in 2005 from 1,480 in 2004. There were 540 homicides in New York City last year, police said, the lowest total since 1963.