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NRA, Bloomberg clash on guns

New York mayor spending $12m on advertising

Mayor Michael Bloomberg (left) formed a super PAC to push for tougher gun laws. NRA leader Wayne LaPierre (right) said gun owners would make a counterweight to that.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg (left) formed a super PAC to push for tougher gun laws. NRA leader Wayne LaPierre (right) said gun owners would make a counterweight to that.

NEW YORK — The chief executive of the National Rifle Association said Sunday that his organization would lead a national campaign against efforts by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York to persuade Congress to adopt stricter gun controls.

The mayor and the NRA executive, Wayne LaPierre, appeared separately on the NBC’s ‘‘Meet the Press.’’ Bloomberg, a billionaire and a registered independent, said he was spending $12 million on advertising in support of pending federal legislation to curb gun violence. In reply, LaPierre, said, ‘‘He can’t buy America.’’

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‘‘He can’t spend enough of his $27 billion to try to impose his will on the American public,’’ LaPierre said. Referring to Bloomberg’s well-known campaigns against smoking and junk food, he said: ‘‘They don’t want him in their restaurants, they don’t want him in their homes, they don’t want him telling them what food to eat. They sure don’t want him telling what self-defense firearms to own.’’

Bloomberg formed a super PAC last year to donate to candidates and causes that he supports. The causes include gay rights and tougher gun laws.

The national advertising campaign that Bloomberg will launch Monday will focus on senators who he believes might be persuaded to support a pending package of federal regulations to curb gun violence.

The ads will run in 13 states — including Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Arizona — blanketing the senators’ districts during an Easter congressional recess that is to be followed by debate over the legislation. The Senate legislation would expand background checks for gun buyers, increase penalties for people who buy firearms for those barred from owning them, and would give law enforcement new tools to combat illegal gun trafficking.

LaPierre said that gun owners would make up a political counterweight to the mayor.

‘‘We have people all over, millions of people, sending us $5, $10, $15, $20 checks, saying, ‘Stand up to this guy that says we can only have three bullets,’ which is what he said,’’ LaPierre said. ‘‘ ‘Stand up to this guy that says ridiculous things like the NRA wants firearms with nukes on them.’ I mean, it’s insane, the stuff he says.’’

Bloomberg said the NRA’s power was ‘‘vastly overrated.’’ Moreover, he said he was ‘‘cautiously optimistic’’ that Congress would follow public opinion and vote for stricter gun controls. The Senate is expected to begin debate on gun legislation next month after it returns from a break for the Easter and Passover holidays.

‘‘Ninety percent of the public, 80 percent of NRA members even, say that they think we should have reasonable checks before people are allowed to buy guns,’’ Bloomberg said. ‘‘They all support the Second Amendment, as I do. There are an awful lot of people that think that this is one of the great issues of our times. We have to stop the carnage.’’

And he had a warning for lawmakers who oppose stricter gun controls. ‘‘If 90 percent of the public want something and their representatives vote against that, common sense says they are going to have a price to pay for that,’’ Bloomberg said.

‘‘We’re running ads around the country,’’ Bloomberg said. ‘‘We’ve got people manning phone banks and calling. We’re trying to do everything we can to impress upon the senators that this is what the survivors want, this is what the public wants.’’

The bill going to the Senate floor is expected to include enhanced background checks.

Asked if his lobbying efforts were thwarting the will of the American people, LaPierre said, ‘‘No, not at all.’’ He added: ‘‘The whole thing, universal checks, is a dishonest premise. There’s not a bill on the Hill that provides a universal check. Criminals aren’t going to be checked. They’re not going to do this. The shooters in Tucson, in Aurora, in Newtown, they’re not going to be checked. They’re unrecognizable.’’

LaPierre criticized the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, set up by the FBI to determine whether prospective buyers have criminal records or are otherwise ineligible to buy guns.

‘‘It’s not fair, it’s not accurate, it’s not instant,’’ LaPierre said. ‘‘The mental health records are not in the system, and they don’t prosecute any of the criminals that they catch. It’s a speed bump for the law-abiding. It slows down the law-abiding and does nothing to anybody else.’’

LaPierre said gun control advocates ‘‘want to take this current mess of a system and expand it now to 100 million law-abiding gun owners.’’

Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, predicted that the Senate would approve some kind of universal background check.

But he said that Congress must recognize concerns that the federal government would keep and possibly misuse records of gun purchases.

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