Bloomberg’s Money: What Does It Mean For Memphis?
By: Craig Harper
The City of Memphis recently received a $4.8 million dollar grant from the private foundation of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Mayor A C Wharton said the money would be put to work to “spur economic development in the inner city and reduce handgun violence.” Wharton went on to say that “folks want safety and folks want jobs.” Now, who can argue with that? The question is, how will it be accomplished?
No plan for any of this was announced (a staff has to be hired and matching funds secured), which means, so far, we only have good intentions. I do know this–since the money came from Michael Bloomberg, an anti-gun advocate, he will want a return on his investment. That will mean a portion of the funds will go to efforts to curb the 2nd Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms. For those unfamiliar with Mayor Bloomberg; he is the billionaire founder of the Bloomberg media empire and the founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG). Mayor Wharton belongs to this organization. While it’s difficult to argue with the stated goals of MAIG (what law-abiding citizen is in favor of illegal guns?), like all other groups of this type, they want to infringe on 2nd amendment rights and be the sole arbiter as to what firearm should or should not be considered illegal.
Legally, there is little the mayor can do except what has already been done, like ban guns from city parks. Tennessee has preemption laws that prohibit municipalities from preempting state law, allowing municipalities only the latitude permitted within the state law. For instance, the most recent state laws amending the authorization of hand gun carry permits did allow local governments to ban guns in certain places like city parks. The City of Memphis enacted ordinances to do so. But past that, the city of Memphis cannot change anything about current Tennessee law regarding owning or carrying firearms.
Keep this in mind too: According to an article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal on July 14, 2008, the grant money will be administered outside of city government. Teams will be hired to carry out the plans with no legal connection to the city and, to my knowledge; nobody is answerable to anyone but Mayor Bloomberg and his foundation.
So then, what are the possible applications of the funds? We can only speculate at the moment but here is where I think this might go:
1. A campaign to raise “awareness” of “handgun violence.” Is there anybody who lives within 50 nautical miles of Memphis that doesn’t know Memphis has a crime problem? How much more awareness do we need? So, we will probably get some feel-good public service campaign to “stop the violence.” The end result of which will be nothing.
2. Another round of the “turn in your guns for cash” campaigns. Remember those? People brought a gun to a collection point and got a coupon for a burger. These campaigns were conducted all over the county including Memphis. There is a reason you don’t see those campaigns anymore; they were totally ineffective. The guns collected were broken, rusted or simply unwanted by their legal owners. Did anyone really think a gang-banger is going to turn in his piece for a Whopper with fries? Even if it’s super-sized; it’s not happening.
3. Donations to political campaigns. There will be an effort to donate to election or re-election campaigns of local and state politicians with the intent of influencing their thinking about current gun laws. Money does talk. I’m not against that idea per se (I make my contributions, too.), but let’s be upfront about it.
4. PR campaigns that will likely demonize legal gun owners and carry permit holders. They will be subtle but there will be no doubt that citizens exercising their rights will be cast as the bad guy. In the same July 14th Commercial Appeal article, Mayor Wharton said, “We’re never going to be successful at combating that (gun violence) if we continue to treat it as a law enforcement problem.” The mayor wants to treat gun violence as a public health issue. This is not an issue of public health like water fluoridation, the polio vaccine, or garbage collection. But by casting it as a public health issue, it opens the door to demonizing gun owners and those that choose to exercise their legal right to carry guns.
Whatever they do, it will be wrong-headed. Guns are not illegal; the acts committed by thugs with guns are illegal. People were perpetrating violence on each other long before firearms were invented; they would hack, slash, stab or smash others. Not all of today’s perpetrators of violent crime use guns. According to the FBI, 36% of murderers used no firearm, 33% of those who committed aggravated assault used a blunt object, while 27% used their hands or feet. The focus should be on the criminal vermin that roam our streets, not on the instruments they use.
Actually, Mayor Wharton did have a point; gun violence is more than a law enforcement problem. It is a societal problem. When did it become fashionable to act like a thug? Why would someone think it’s OK to shoot a person over an argument about a parking space? When did gang membership become a career track? When did “drug dealer” become the pinnacle of success? There are root causes to the violence problem and it’s not the instrument.
Also cited in the newspaper article was the number of people killed in Memphis by guns to that date: 61. What wasn’t mentioned was that 1 in 5 of those homicides was a justifiable homicide. In other words, the shooting and ultimate death was caused by citizens defending themselves against a violent criminal act so they didn’t end up dead themselves. That’s why the handgun carry laws exist, so citizens can protect themselves against criminals. These facts may sadden some, but it is also reality.
I don’t pretend to know the answer to the societal problems causing the violence. I suspect it will take some kind of multi-generational plan to fix it. But I do know what we can do in the short-term. Here’s where I’d like to see the money go:
Give some to Memphis Police Chief Toney Armstrong to hire more cops and buy more equipment so they can arrest thugs.
Give some to Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich so she can prosecute thugs.
Let’s spend the money wisely, not on feel-good programs or attacks on law-abiding citizens. If we reduce the criminals, we will reduce the violence.
Craig Harper is a local businessman in the field of consumer research. He is also a Tennessee State certified firearms instructor and a NRA certified firearms instructor.