MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The group Mayors Against Illegal Guns has launched a million-dollar media blitz to support new gun legislation. One TV ad features Neil Heslin, whose son, Jesse Lewis, was among those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
NEIL HESLIN: Oh, I feel it's something I owe to my son, Jesse, to speak up and I'm his voice. And I feel if I didn't, I would be letting Jesse down.
BLOCK: The ad says don't let the memory of Newtown fade, demand action now. Mayors Against Illegal Guns was co-founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's also financing the ad campaign. The group's director, Mark Glaze, joins me here in the studio. Thanks for coming in.
MARK GLAZE: Thanks for having me.
BLOCK: And before we talk more about this campaign, I'd like to hear your reaction to the news we've been hearing about of the Senate compromise on background checks. What do you think?
GLAZE: It's not perfect, but it's a good compromise. The purpose of the bill is to cover all commercial gun sales, all that take place in the commercial setting. What that means is, as you probably know, today licensed gun dealers have to give background checks to their buyers, but everybody else does not. And right now everybody else, our sales would take place by unlicensed sellers to private individuals online, at gun shows, in classified ads.
And it accounts for the vast bulk of unlicensed sales in this country, we think, and it's a huge loophole that criminals who are sophisticated know how to exploit.
BLOCK: Let's talk about one announcement from your group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, this week, that you are going to be scoring members of Congress on their gun votes. Basically taking a page from the NRA, which does the same thing, gives letter grades based on Congresspeople's voting record. What's the goal here?
GLAZE: Well, the goal is to let members of Congress know that somebody's watching. I don't think they've had that sense for a long time and as long as the NRA was the only game in town, the truth is the NRA has never had as much electoral juice as they like to say they do in their press releases. A good example is in November of 2012, the NRA was really interested in eight Senate races.
It spent more than $100,000 in each of those eight states and seven of their candidates lost. When there's nobody on the other side issuing letter grades, talking to the public and making sure they're heard, and providing some political support, the decision not to vote for the 90 percent of Americans who want background checks, for example, became very easy to do. And that's what our Mayors hope to change.
BLOCK: Your group is also running a batch of TV ads that are targeting individual members of Congress. I want to ask you about a comment from Democrat Mark Pryor, senator from Arkansas, about these ads. He says I don't take gun advice from the mayor of New York City - meaning Michael Bloomberg - I listen to Arkansans.
GLAZE: Well, he should. He should. And the point of the ad that we ran against him was that 84 percent of Arkansans think that every gun buyer should get a criminal background check. We also have — you know, it's not just Mayor Bloomberg and Mayor Menino - we have almost 1,000 mayors across this country, more than 100 Republicans, big cities and small towns, who don't run away from gun control.
They run toward it because they understand that they are going to be held responsible when a police officer is shot and killed in the line of duty, very often by somebody who was already a prohibited gun purchaser but never had to get a background check.
BLOCK: Assuming that this legislation does go through and the gun show loophole is closed, how much of an effect do you think that has on gun-related violence?
GLAZE: Well, we will see, but we know it's had a significant effect, even though the background check system has been filled with loopholes that have undermined it. Just since 1998, which is when the background system was stood up, as they say, it's blocked more than two million prohibited purchasers from getting their hands on firearms.
Now, it's hard to know how much crime was committed by a felon who was not allowed to get a gun but we can safely assume that it's a lot.
BLOCK: You know that the argument from the NRA and others is that criminals who want to get guns are going to get them. They're not gonna go to a gun show and they won't be facing a background check.
GLAZE: Well, here's how that works. When you can get guns at a licensed dealer without a background check, that's the easiest way and it's probably what you do if you're a criminal. Once you require a background check at a licensed dealer, you've got to look for somewhere else. So they migrate today to the private sale loophole, which is a website where private sellers congregate, a gun show where unlicensed seller can congregate.
Once you close that off, you really have to turn to the black market. And the truth about the black market is that it's not that easy to access even for sophisticated criminals. It takes longer. You can't always find a gun. And when you do, they tend to be twice as expensive. So you are slowly and slowly kind of drawing the noose around criminals who need to do their business with guns by making them harder to get.
BLOCK: Do you figure, though, that market changes if the gun show loophole is closed and it becomes not so hard to get them, if they are not getting sold at gun shows in the same way?
GLAZE: Well, more people will need to go to the black market and maybe the black market will respond by expanding. And then it becomes law enforcement's job to continue to kind of drawing the noose around those criminals and diminishing the pool of guns that are available in that market.
But, you know, I have to say the NRA's argument is that, look, there are so many guns out there in circulation that laws will only affect the law abiding, and criminals will always be able to get them. I think it's important to point out that it's the NRA that, for 50 years, has been systematically whittling away at even common sense regulations. So that now, they are able to make the argument: There're so many guns in circulation, laws only affect the law abiding, criminals will always find them. They need to take some responsibility.
BLOCK: Mark Glaze is director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Mark, thanks for coming in.
GLAZE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.