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NYC Mayor Bloomberg launches campaign against gun violence

Seth Wenig / AP

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at podium, watches a video testimonial surrounded by shooting survivors and victims' relatives during a news conference in City Hall in New York on Dec. 17, 2012.

Flanked by dozens of survivors of shootings and family members of victims, a visibly angry New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called on Congress and the president Monday to take specific and immediate action to reduce gun violence.

Bloomberg unveiled a campaign, sponsored by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns bipartisan coalition, called Demand a Plan that includes a website featuring video testimonials from 34 people affected by gun violence asking political leaders to tighten gun laws. Bloomberg called Washington’s inaction on the issue a “stain on our nation’s commitment to protect our children.”

In attempting to increase pressure on lawmakers, Bloomberg said Friday’s massacre in Newtown, Conn. “demands immediate national action.” But when asked by NBC News whether he intends to use his personal wealth to support specific legislation or candidates, Bloomberg declined to answer. Bloomberg’s personal Super PAC – Independence USA –  which he created during the last election cycle, claimed 19 electoral victories and seven losses on election night, including the defeat of several NRA-backed candidates such as Rep. Joe Baca, who lost California’s 35th District to Gloria Negrete McLeod. Before Bloomberg’s $2.7 million cash infusion, McLeod had been trailing the NRA-supported Baca by double digits.

Bloomberg called on Congress to immediately enact a three-pronged legislative agenda that includes passing pending legislation known as the Fix Gun Checks Act, which would require a criminal background check for all gun sales. Current federal law requires licensed gun dealers to perform background checks but in private sales, where an estimated 40 percent of guns are bought and sold, background checks are not required. In addition, he asked Congress to ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines and to make gun trafficking a felony.

Related: Pro-gun Democrats warm to tighter controls

Bloomberg also called on President Barack Obama to use executive authority to confirm a new director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the federal law enforcement agency that investigates the unlawful possession of firearms. The ATF has gone without a confirmed director since 2006, when Congress changed the law to require that directors receive Senate confirmation. Bloomberg called the lack of a director a “public safety threat.” ATF supporters say NRA opposition has left the agency running with only an acting director.

On Monday several members of Congress said they are open to restrictions on assault weapons, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg insisted it's time to take action. NBC's Tom Costello reports.

Among the family members of victims who stood behind Bloomberg as he made his call to action was Rita Kestenbaum, whose daughter Carol was shot to death in 2007 while attending Arizona State University. Carol and her roommate, Nicole Schiffman, were murdered by Schiffman’s ex-boyfriend, who also killed himself. Kestenbaum said she had been supporting Bloomberg’s gun control efforts ever since her daughter’s death and found it “tremendously frustrating” each time she heard of a new shooting. “I was here supporting this cause after Virginia Tech,” Kestenbaum said. “Why am I still here meeting more people losing their kids to mass murder?”

Related: Obama's gun-control vow faces long road

Nardyne Jeffries lost her only child, 16-year-old Brishell Jones, while she was eating pizza with a group of friends after attending the funeral for a victim of gun violence. A group of men driving by opened fire with an AK-47, killing Brishell and two others and injuring nine more. Jeffries said Friday’s violence brought back feelings she knew all too well. “I’m sick of the kumbaya with the vigils and the politicians swooping in after every one of these,” she said. “When is enough enough? You just shouldn’t have to bury your baby.”

That sense of anger was palpable with Chief John Aresta of the Malverne, N.Y., Police Department. He lost two people close to him to separate acts of gun violence, including his former partner. Aresta said that in supporting Bloomberg’s Demand a Plan campaign, he hoped he would inspire others to “get up off the couch” and call on their elected leaders to demand change. “We have to start somewhere,” he said. Asked whether he thought the gun lobby was too powerful for ordinary citizens like himself to take on, he scoffed. “There are far more non-NRA members than there are NRA members in this country.”

Bloomberg plans to send copies of all 34 video testimonials on the Demand a Plan website to every member of Congress when it reconvenes in January. 

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