A Counterattack in Gun Wars
Georgia May Ban Probes by City
By BRADLEY HOPE
Staff Reporter of the Sun
May 16, 2007
In what may mark a coalescing of Southern pro-gun politicians against Mayor Bloomberg, two Georgia lawmakers said they want to follow Virginia's lead in passing a law that would prevent New York City from unilaterally sending private investigators across state lines to investigate gun dealers.
"We want to require they get our cooperation," the chairman of the Georgia House's Rules Committee, Earl Ehrhart, a Republican, said. "We have indoor plumbing. We have books that don't have bark on the outside of them. We can handle our own law enforcement. â€¦ This is anti-Southern bigotry."
Mr. Bloomberg has been dealing with a riled-up pro-gun community since the city last year filed civil lawsuits against 27 gun dealers in five states. The suit was based on evidence gathered by the mayor's private investigators that the city alleges shows dealers breaking the law.
The city paid the James Mintz Group $800,000 to carry out "straw purchases," the term for someone filling out the paperwork and buying a gun that is intended for someone else. Twelve of the dealers alleged to have improperly sold guns have settled with the city by agreeing to allow a special master full access to their stores for three years.
The governor of Virginia, Timothy Kaine, a Democrat, and the General Assembly approved a law in March that makes it a felony to conduct similar investigations without supervision from local authorities or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
The president pro tempore of the Georgia Senate, Eric Johnson, a Republican, said Mr. Bloomberg's investigations were "desperate, strong-arm tactics."
"Georgians â€" they like their civil rights," he said. "If they are going to be investigated or accused, they want it to be Georgia or federal law enforcement."
Messrs. Ehrhart and Johnson said they were separately researching the issue and considering introducing a bill in the next legislative session, starting in January.
"Trying to stop the flow of illegal guns is a noble cause and he ought to be doing it," Mr. Johnson said. "The issue here is that he's using private investigators to cross state lines and then lying on application forms to get guns. That doesn't prove the gun dealer did anything wrong. They followed the federal gun law."
Mr. Bloomberg's criminal justice coordinator, John Feinblatt, said that preventing illegal guns from entering New York City is not a North versus South issue. Forty-seven of the 226 members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition founded by Mr. Bloomberg and Mayor Menino of Boston, are from cities south of the Mason-Dixon line, he said. ( The New York Sun reported in March that four mayors from rural, pro-gun areas have dropped out of the coalition.)
"We're going to do what it takes to protect New Yorkers and what it takes to protect cops," Mr. Feinblatt said.
He said the city would comply with all laws while conducting future investigations. The city provided the ATF and U.S. attorneys with information uncovered in the sting operations, he said, and has turned over information received from whistleblowers.
The stores targeted in Georgia have many times the number of crime gun traces than the average gun store, Mr. Feinblatt said, adding that seven of the eight stores had been identified in prior federal prosecutions of crimes.
"We didn't uncover a secret," he said. "What we did was act when nobody else was willing to."
Still, the cultural ramifications of New York City-sponsored investigators is playing out in Virginia.
Tomorrow night, a pro-gun group, Virginia Citizens Defense League, is holding a "Bloomberg Gun Giveaway" raffle to support gun dealers targeted in the sting operations. The president of the group, Philip Van Cleave, said 2,500 tickets were awarded people who spent more than $100 at two dealers targeted in Virginia. The first prize is a firearm and other prizes include a Weber gas grill and a laser device used to sight a gun.
"These guys were innocent businessmen who are being destroyed just so some guy can puff out his chest and run for president," Mr. Van Cleave said. "That's what really got to us."
Mr. Kaine has criticized the "giveaway," which is being held at a government building in Annandale, but didn't address Mr. Bloomberg's wider gun campaign.
"The governor, a Democrat, is very careful," the director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, Larry Sabato, said. "He tiptoes around the NRA. Second Amendment rights are prized especially in the South."
At stake in this public clash, Mr. Sabato said, is support for the mayor's potential presidential bid.
"If Mayor Bloomberg is serious about running for president, then this action will cost him many states in the South, in the border region, and the Rocky Mountain region," he said.
A professor of history at the University of Georgia, James Cobb, author of "Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity," said the reaction of the Georgia lawmakers would probably be shared among other people from the area.
"If you scratch a Southerner very deeply, you are going to find someone who is very resentful of even a hint of Northern condescension," he said.