WASHINGTON — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group launched a $350,000 advertising blitz Friday criticizing U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., for opposing an effort to strengthen background checks for gun sales.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns announced said it will run television ads over the next two weeks on broadcast and cable stations in Arkansas urging Pryor to reconsider his vote in April in opposition to gun control.
The advertisement features Angela Bradford-Barnes of Little Rock expressing disappointment that Pryor voted against a proposal by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to expand background checks on gun sales. Bradford-Barnes was the chief financial officer for the Democratic Party of Arkansas in 2008 when a gunman entered party headquarters and fatally shot chairman Bill Gwatney.
In the advertisement, Bradford-Barnes does not mention Gwatney by name but alludes to his death saying she blamed the death of her "dear innocent friend" not on guns but the system that makes it "terribly easy for criminals or the dangerous mentally ill" to purchase guns.
"That’s why I was so disappointed when Mark Pryor voted against comprehensive background checks," she said.
Pryor issued a stinging response saying Bloomberg’s "attack ad" politicizes the death of his friend.
"New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg didn’t know Bill Gwatney. I knew Bill Gwatney. He was my friend and he was killed by someone with severe mental health issues," Pryor stated. "The Mayor’s bill would have done nothing to prevent his death because it fails to adequately address the real issue and common thread in all these shootings — mental health."
Pryor is expected to face a tough re-election campaign in 2014 but gun control will hardly be a decisive issue given that the most likely Republican challengers share similar or stronger views supporting gun ownership.
Pryor and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., cast similar votes in April — disapproving of the Manchin/Toomey proposal to require background checks for guns purchased at gun shows and through the Internet. They voted instead in favor of an alternative, backed by the National Rifle Association, that would have tightened the background check database but not expand the types of sales subject to it.
President Barack Obama pushed gun-safety legislation in the wake of the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that claimed the lives of 20 children and six school personnel at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The Senate took up legislation in April that was quickly shelved after losing key votes on an assault weapons ban, prohibition on large-capacity magazines and expanded background checks.
Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he plans to revive the issue but has not set a date for when gun safety legislation would be tackled again.
Gwatney was fatally wounded on Aug. 13, 2008. The gunman was killed later in a shootout with police after a car chase. Bradford-Barnes left her job with the state party in 2012.
Candace Martin, a spokeswoman for the state party, issued a statement critical of the ad.
"Bill Gwatney was a friend and inspiration to all Democrats. Not a day goes by that we don’t think about his tragic death and miss him. We don’t believe it is right for any organization to politicize this tragedy," she said.