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Two mayors, one issue

January 10, 2006

EVEN AS CRIME rates continue to fall in Los Angeles and across the nation, a staggering number of homicides still occur each year, most involving a handgun. In Los Angeles, there were 487 killings in 2005, down from 518 in 2004, but twice the number of auto deaths.

In his inaugural address last week, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York championed stricter gun laws in his state and nationally. He announced that he would push New York legislators to expand his state's already strong gun restrictions -- and that he would visit "every capital of every state that permits guns to flow freely across its borders." He has asked other mayors to join his campaign.

It's a challenge that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa should take up. (He was one of the architects of California's strong but nevertheless insufficient gun legislation during his tenure in the state Assembly.) New York's mayor is likely to advocate that more states consider monthly limits on gun sales and stricter background checks, both required in California.

Taking the gun-control fight national could well reap political benefits at home for both Bloomberg and Villaraigosa. But there are better reasons than that for doing it. As states such as California, New York and Massachusetts have expanded their gun laws in recent years, the flood of illegal guns to their streets from bordering states has grown.

Meanwhile, in most states, buyers who purchase used guns are not required to undergo a background check. And it's difficult to track gun owners because most states don't keep sales records long enough.

Gun advocates point to lower crime rates as a reason the nation does not need more uniform gun controls. But much of the decrease is because of the good economy and the aging population. Making it harder for teenage criminals to obtain a gun could reduce the crime rate still further.

Bloomberg's message will be a tough sell in many states, especially those south of the Mason-Dixon line -- and it's unlikely Villaraigosa's voice will give the gun issue much traction there either. What Villaraigosa would give this effort is a one-two punch on both coasts that could fuel a nationwide debate about gun laws. It would be a worthwhile way for Villaraigosa to use his national political capital.

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