About 30 minutes before two people were shot dead and nine were injured near New York’s Empire State Building, the mayor of America’s largest city was on the radio talking again about guns.
“It is just too many guns on the streets,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said during his weekly radio appearance today on WOR radio. “The argument, ‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,’ is one of the most disingenuous things you can say. It does take a person to pull the trigger.”
Moments after the mayor finished speaking, Jeffrey Johnson of Manhattan returned to a business that fired him last year and shot Steve Ercolino, 41, a former co-worker, on the street, New York police said. Johnson, wielding a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, fled the scene, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told reporters. Johnson was killed by police.
Bloomberg, 70, has made restricting gun sales a signature issue. He serves as co-chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of more than 700 mayors who advocate new laws and stiffer enforcement of existing ones. The group argues for measures to keep guns away from criminals.
Today’s episode follows a July 20 shooting near Denver where a masked gunman opened fire, killing 12 and injuring 58 in a suburban Aurora theater. In Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a gunman killed six people at a Sikh temple on Aug. 5 before turning the weapon on himself.
“Our state has no tolerance for senseless acts of violence that harm our people,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said in an e-mailed statement today. “We will do everything possible to ensure that law enforcement officials have the tools they need so residents of the city and tourists can enjoy everything New York City has to offer without fearing for their own safety and security.”
On Aug. 7, Cuomo said he’d make strengthening the state’s gun laws a priority when lawmakers return to Albany in January.
New York City law requires a license to purchase a handgun. A special license is needed to carry the handguns loaded with ammunition. Applicants undergo a criminal background check.
The suspect bought his gun legally in Florida and had no permit to own or carry it in New York City, said Marc LaVorgna, Bloomberg’s spokesman.
Getting a handgun license can take as long as a year and requires at least four trips to police headquarters, including one where applicants are interviewed by an investigator, said John S. Chambers, a New York attorney who helps applicants navigate the process.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence ranks New York as having the fourth-strictest gun laws among U.S. states, behind California, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
Johnson doesn’t appear to have a criminal record, said Bloomberg, a political independent, who is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
Today’s shooting was the third this month at a major New York City tourist attraction. Yesterday, a street vendor near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx shot two competitors, according to the New York Daily News, and on Aug. 11, police gunned down a knife-wielding man near Times Square.
Bloomberg repeated criticism of both President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate. Bloomberg said they have failed to develop a policy or legislative agenda to control illicit firearms sales.
“We kill 34 people a day in this country with illegal guns,” Bloomberg said on WOR. “The costs to society, all of us are paying for this. People don’t understand, because of the police needed and the hospitals and all of this stuff, and people are afraid to go out and shop and everything.”
Andrew Arulanandam, director of public affairs for the Fairfax, Virginia-based National Rifle Association, didn’t respond to a phone call seeking comment.
The NRA has opposed a Bloomberg-backed proposal, which has repeatedly failed to pass the state Legislature, to require semiautomatic pistols be “microstamped” with an alpha-numeric code. The mark would help investigators identify the origin of guns used in a crime. Bloomberg and the Mayors Against Illegal Guns have urged U.S. lawmakers to resist an NRA-backed law allowing people to carry concealed guns anywhere in the U.S if that person’s home state allows it.
The satirical newspaper The Onion, posted a story on its website with the headline “Nation Celebrates Full Week Without Deadly Mass Shooting.” In smaller print, it added an “update” saying: “Never mind.”