Bloom is off Bloomberg’s Vigilante Gun Shop Sting

By Alan Gottlieb

Almost from the outset, something smelled rotten about a “sting” mounted last year by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in an effort to target alleged rogue gun shops in five different states for selling guns illegally.

Bloomberg dispatched private investigators to conduct this vigilante operation, apparently neglecting to advise the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) what they were up to. These “investigators” had no law enforcement authority to engage in what may have been illegal “straw man” purchases to entrap some 15 different dealers.

The odor ripened when Bloomberg filed civil lawsuits against these gun shops, rather than turn over evidence to the proper authorities for criminal prosecution. Bloomberg’s office refused to turn over that evidence, and instead the billionaire mayor launched a high-profile media campaign demonizing the targeted gun shop operators.

When he announced the sting, and associated lawsuits, he took a cheap shot at ATF, declaring the agency asleep at the wheel.

And then Bloomberg, with the partnership of another anti-gun municipal politician, Boston Mayor Tom Menino, launched Mayors Against Illegal Guns. This coalition’s purpose was purportedly to campaign for laws that crack down on gun shops selling guns that found their way into criminal hands.

But now it turns out there is more than one fly in the ointment. Flies are attracted by foul odors. The anti-gun Joyce Foundation provided $175,000 to Bloomberg’s group. And recently, Anchorage, Alaska Mayor Mark Begich, Rio Rancho, New Mexico Mayor Kevin Jackson and Idaho Falls, Idaho Mayor Jared Fuhriman have bailed out. All essentially explained that – surprise of surprises – there is more to the coalition agenda than they had initially understood.

Begich, Jackson and Fuhriman wisely turned their backs on what amounts to a political lynch mob, out more for headline-grabbing junk lawsuits and legislation targeting everything from gun shows to types of firearms law-abiding citizens may own, claiming that eroding the rights of good people will somehow prevent crimes committed by bad people.

And now the Justice Department has essentially cooled Bloomberg’s jets. W. Larry Ford, ATF Director for Public and Governmental Affairs, revealed that the agency is investigating Bloomberg’s rogue sting operation “in order to determine if violations of federal firearms laws occurred.” Just days later, Michael Battle, director of the executive office for United States Attorneys at the Department of Justice, sent a letter warning Bloomberg’s administration that it could face “potential legal liabilities” if such sting operations continue. Battle also said the Justice Department will not be filing criminal charges against any of the 15 gun dealers targeted by Bloomberg’s 2006 lawsuits over alleged “straw man” purchases. Such operations lack “proper law enforcement authority,” Battle’s letter warned.

Though criminal charges may never be filed against Bloomberg or his agents provocateur in the gun shop sting, two shots have been fired across Bloomberg’s bow, and he really ought to lower his sails. Likewise, so should the more than 150 other mayors who were beguiled by headlines to join Bloomberg’s anti-gun crusade.

Going after suspected illegal gun dealers, especially outside of one’s jurisdiction, is not a job for mayors or private investigators they hire. That’s a job for the ATF and federal prosecutors. Bloomberg now stands cautioned that his antics are under scrutiny. Other mayors, lulled into joining with Bloomberg, might take this as a signal they need to reconsider that affiliation.

In politics, opportunities to change course and do something smart come along rarely, but opportunities to do something stupid come knocking every day. Bloomberg, and his contemporaries, have been handed a chance to wise up. Let’s see if they are smart enough to take the hint.