Gun Control After Tucson: Ray Kelly on the Dangerous Loopholes

In the wake of the Tucson massacre, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly says it’s time for “common-sense gun laws” because it’s too easy for people with mental issues to get guns—but he isn’t optimistic for reform.

Henny Ray Abrams

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly isn’t optimistic that horrific events like the Tucson shooting spree are preventable—especially given the realities of politics in America.

“We have so many guns in this country, and a lot of deranged people,” Kelly told business leaders Tuesday morning at a breakfast hosted by the New York City Police Foundation. “So you take those two realities, and the potential for something like this happening is great.”

The 69-year-old Vietnam War veteran and ex-Marine, who is rounding out a decade in his second stint as New York’s top cop, added that “the big issue is access to guns and whether or not an appropriate record check was done.”

He said that in New York state, a would-be gun-purchaser’s history of mental illness, for example, would show up on the data base and prevent such a purchase. The suspect in the Tucson massacre, Jared Loughner, might still have gone undetected, because he’d had no official interaction with mental health authorities or, for that matter, the cops, when he bought a Glock last fall and dozens of bullets on the morning of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others, including six who died.

Kelly called for “common-sense gun laws,” but told the posh crowd at Manhattan’s Hotel Regency that he doubted such laws would be enacted in the foreseeable future.

“You can go to gun shows across America and walk in and just purchase guns in significant numbers from another seller at that location—and there is no regulation.”

“No question about it— the gun lobby is very powerful in Washington on both sides of the aisle,” said Kelly, who was a Treasury Department official in the Clinton administration. “The gun show loophole is something that just cries out for federal regulation,” he added. “You can go to gun shows across America and walk in and just purchase guns in significant numbers from another seller at that location—and there is no regulation. I think that is one very obvious matter that can be addressed.”

But, Kelly continued, “I don’t have great confidence or faith that Congress is going to take this on. I think we’ve seen reluctance on both sides of the aisle to address the gun issue. The terrible tragedy in Tucson has, of course, focused people’s attention on it. But I was in Washington for four and a half years, and in my experience, it’s the third rail of politics and people just back away from it.”

In his power-point presentation to the members of the police foundation, which raises about $100 million to supplement the department’s budget, Kelly crowed about New York City's consistently low crime rate during the nearly 10 years of the Bloomberg administration—“Take that, Rudy!” an audience member quipped to me, noting that crime was significantly higher under Giuliani’s mayoralty—and pointed to a 35 percent reduction in overall crime since 2001.

He also outlined his department’s efforts to stop terrorist plots, notably 12 foiled terrorist attacks since 9/11, and discussed placing a total of 3,000 surveillance cameras in Lower Manhattan by next September, the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

He hedged on a question about whether he agrees with Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, who has claimed that members of the Muslim community aren’t cooperating sufficiently with law enforcement authorities on exposing Islamic radicals in their midst.

“I don’t want to characterize—Congressman King is a tremendous American—very supportive of the police department. We’ll see what his hearings bring out,” Kelly said. However, he added, “We get cooperation…I speak at a mosque once every six weeks or so. There’s a lot of interaction… There is a lot of information we glean through confidential sources.”

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Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.