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What Bloomberg Got Wrong About Reducing Gun Violence In His 2015 Speech

Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, center in yellow, walks in a New York City parade in 2009.
Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, center in yellow, walks in a New York City parade in 2009.

Audio from a 2015 speech by Michael Bloomberg is stirring outrage over his strident defense of stop-and-frisk policing. But in the speech, the former New York City mayor and 2020 presidential candidate also makes a series of claims about gun violence that at the time were widely known to be false or even harmful.

Bloomberg is a prominent voice in gun control and gun violence reduction. He co-founded the gun violence prevention group Everytown For Gun Safety in 2014 with an initial commitment of $50 million. He sits on the group’s advisory board and, according to an Everytown spokesperson, continues to provide about 30% of its $35 million in annual contributions.

In the audio, Bloomberg incorrectly says the profile of murderers and murder victims “are male minorities 15 to 25.”

“That’s true in New York,” he says in the audio. “That’s true in virtually every city in America.”

But by 2012, analysis of gun violence in Oakland, California, had found that 70% of people involved in gun violence fit a narrow profile. They’re people in their 20s to early 30s, with seven or more arrests, part of some form of clique or gang, and who have themselves been a victim of gun violence or know someone who has.

“That is a very small number of people,” said David Muhammad, the executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, a non-profit organization that consults on criminal justice systems and gun violence reduction. “And what we have found, is that is very close to the risk profile in nearly every city that has a significant gun violence problem.”

By the time Bloomberg made his comments in 2015, Muhammad said, “that was generally known to people in the field of gun violence reduction.”

Muhammad served as Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Probation in New York City while Bloomberg was mayor. His work in Oakland helped reduce gun violence in the city by 50% between 2012 and 2018.

In the audio, Bloomberg says the solution to gun violence is to flood minority neighborhoods with police.

“People say, ‘Oh my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana who are all minorities,’” Bloomberg says in the audio. “Yes, that’s true. Why? Because we put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why’d we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is. And the way you should get the guns out of the kids’ hands is throw them against the wall and frisk them.”

But by 2015, Muhammad says, that approach was known to exacerbate the underlying causes of gun violence.

“This notion of ‘broken windows’ kind of extreme enforcement of low level offenses has been debunked and has proven to result in the type of mass incarceration that specifically exacerbates racial tensions and inequalities in the system,” Muhammad said.

Muhammad says what has been shown to be most effective is the opposite of what Mayor Bloomberg suggests: non-police interventions with the small number of people who are at the highest risk of being involved in gun violence and deprioritizing low-level crimes to focus police attention on gun violence.

By 2015, studies had found that coupling community partnerships with “focused deterrence,” a policing strategy concentrating resources on the small number of people responsible for much of the violence, can reduce gun violence.

In a statement, Everytown For Gun Safety said it is independent from Mayor Bloomberg. As an organization, it initially focused on gun safety legislation and only recently got involved in programs to address community gun violence.

Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.


Copyright 2021 Guns and America. To see more, visit Guns and America.

Jonathan Levinson

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