New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, left, and National Rifle Assn. head Wayne… (AFP/Getty Images )
WASHINGTON — With the Senate expected to take up gun-control measures arising from last year's mass slayings at a Connecticut elementary school, advocates and opponents of stiffer gun laws vowed Sunday to step up their battle for political support.
New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a fierce proponent of restrictions on firearms, said he will bankroll a $12-million TV advertising blitz in 13 states to pressure individual senators from both parties during the two-week congressional recess.
Bloomberg vowed "to do everything we can" to support legislation to close the so-called gun show loophole and require federal background checks for nearly all firearms purchases, not just those in gun stores.
Wayne LaPierre, who heads the National Rifle Assn., a pro-gun group with powerful influence on Capitol Hill, likened Bloomberg's push for stronger gun laws to his campaign to ban sales of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in New York City.
Americans, La Pierre said, "don't want him telling them what food to eat. They sure don’t want him telling them what self-defense firearms to own."
The NRA plans to unleash its own lobbying campaign during the congressional recess, using print and broadcast media.
Bloomberg and LaPierre appeared separately on NBC’s "Meet the Press."
The Senate is expected to take up a bill next month that would expand law enforcement background checks, crack down on illicit gun trafficking, and fund programs intended to boost school security.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) recently trimmed an assault weapons ban from the proposed bill, saying the ban was unlikely to pass the Senate and might doom the other provisions.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has led efforts to renew an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. She has vowed to try to add it as an amendment to the gun control bill.
Bloomberg said he wasn’t ready to give up on an assault weapons ban, "but clearly it is a more difficult issue for a lot of people."
Bloomberg, a billionaire, said he may tap his bank account to target lawmakers in reelection campaigns next year unless they support tougher gun laws. If he can prevent the NRA from being the only voice on guns, he added, "then I think my money will be well spent."
The mayor, a political independent, spent more than $3 million last fall to help defeat California Democratic Congressman Joe Baca, whom he regarded as weak on gun control. He also contributed to a campaign that ousted an NRA-backed candidate in an Illinois congressional primary race.
Citing polls indicating broad support for tougher gun laws, Bloomberg said members of Congress who defy public sentiment "are going to have a price to pay."
LaPierre said the NRA, which has stepped up fundraising efforts in recent months, is ready for the fight. The mayor, he said, "can't spend enough of his $27 billion to try to impose his will on the American public."
Some critics of universal background checks say they fear the government will try to create a national gun registry, which they oppose, although the proposed gun control law does not include that provision.
LaPierre doesn't support expanding the current background check system, saying the NRA favors stronger efforts to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill and better enforcement of existing gun laws.
In one of the new TV ads backed by Bloomberg, a man holding a gun sits on his pickup truck and says, "Background checks have nothing to do with taking guns away from anyone. Closing loopholes will stop criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from buying guns."
The ads will be aired by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group Bloomberg co-founded. They will be aimed at potentially vulnerable Democratic and Republican senators in Nevada, Ohio, North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas and other states.