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Bloomberg urges candidates to lead gun control debate

Mayor Michael Bloomberg applied pressure on the presidential candidates two days after a gunman killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., using an assault rifle and other semiautomatic weapons.

Jason Reed/Reuters

Mayor Michael Bloomberg applied pressure on the presidential candidates two days after a gunman killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., using an assault rifle and other semiautomatic weapons.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York on Sunday called for President Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney to lead a national debate about gun control, so far a nonissue in the presidential campaign.

“You want our votes. What are you going to do about it?” Bloomberg, an independent, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

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Bloomberg applied pressure on the presidential candidates two days after a gunman killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., using an assault rifle and other semiautomatic weapons. Obama and Romney have muted their campaign rhetoric since the shooting spree and offered condolences to the victims’ families.

But neither has shown an immediate desire to discuss gun policy.

“Expressing sympathy is nice . . . but somebody’s got to do something about this,” Bloomberg said. “And this requires, particularly in a presidential year, the candidates for president of the United States to stand up and once and for all say, yes, they feel terrible. Yes, it’s a tragedy. Yes, we have great sympathy for the families, but it’s time for this country to do something. And that’s the job of the president of the United States.”

“I don’t know what they’re going to do,” Bloomberg added, “but I think it’s incumbent on them to tell us specifically, not just in broad terms.”

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney signed a state ban on assault weapons in 2004, when a federal ban was about to expire.

“These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense,” Romney said at the time. “They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.”

But in 2007, during his first run for president, Romney said he did not support “any new gun laws, including any new ban on semiautomatic firearms.”

In the current election, Romney has maintained his opposition to new federal gun laws — saying they would “do nothing more than burden law-abiding citizens while being ignored by criminals” — and has courted the support of the National Rifle Association.

Obama supported a ban on all semiautomatic weapons as a state senator in Illinois and endorsed background checks at gun shows during his White House run in 2008.

Shortly after taking office, Obama said he would push to reinstate the federal assault weapons ban, but he appeared to back off before the 2010 midterm election and has said little about the ban since. 

Last year, after Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was wounded and six others were killed by a gunman in Tucson, Obama spoke generally about “a new discussion of how we can keep America safe for all our people” but has not proposed new gun control initiatives since then.

Gun control also has been mostly absent from the high-profile race in Massachusetts between Senator Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren. When he has talked about gun control during his first term, Brown has said “individual states should be allowed to decide what constitutes safe and responsible gun ownership.” Shortly after the Giffords shooting, Brown said he would not back a renewal of the federal assault weapons ban.

Warren declared herself in favor of gun control last August, before formally announcing her candidacy, but has not delved into specifics on an issue that has not surfaced during the campaign.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said Sunday that politicians are reluctant to take hard lines on gun control “because the gun organizations go out to defeat people in states where they can.”

“They pour a lot of money in,” Feinstein said on “Fox News Sunday.” “And some people lost office after they voted for [gun control] legislation before.”

Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado, a Democrat, said a gun control debate is certain to follow the shooting in Aurora, but he played down its importance. “I think that debate’s going to happen; it already has started,” Hickenlooper said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “But you look at this person — almost a creature — if he couldn’t have gotten access to the guns, what kind of bomb would he have manufactured? I mean, we’re in a time, an information age where there’s access to all kinds of information.”

Even Bloomberg said, “We don’t need more laws.” But, Bloomberg said, “we need a couple of fixes.”

“It’s up to these two presidential candidates,” he said. “They want to lead this country, and they’ve said things before that they’re in favor of banning things like assault weapons. Where are they now, and why don’t they stand up? And if they want our votes, they better.”

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.
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