Over the weekend, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College, the private liberal arts college in Gambler, Ohio. Due to the fact that Bloomberg is a billionaire media mogul, one could have reasonably assumed that his address would center around career advice for the class of 2013.
Stuff like, “work hard, believe in yourself, set goals,” etc., you know, the themes that typically crop up during a graduation speech.
However, Bloomberg had other plans. He saw the celebration as a perfect opportunity to bring up the national debate over gun control.
In his speech, Bloomberg referenced the 17-year-old high school student who killed three classmates and wounded several others at Chardon High School, near Cleveland, in 2012.
“It was national news — for a day or two,” said Bloomberg about the incident, as CNN reported. “Then came mass shootings in Pittsburgh, Miami, Oakland, Tulsa, Seattle, Wilmington, Aurora, Milwaukee, Texas A&M, Minneapolis, Brookfield, Portland.”
“After each one, those in Washington just shrugged.”
“Then, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty children, six faculty members all gunned down,” Bloomberg went on, saying how that finally mobilized the president and several members of congress to take action.
The cornerstone piece of legislation to come from that effort was the expanded background check bill drafted by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA). The Manchin-Toomey Amendment, as it was known, would have required criminal background checks for all firearm purchases made over the Internet or at gun shows.
President Obama had also pushed for a renewed ban on so-called ‘military style assault weapons’ and a ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammo. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) penned the “2013 Assault Weapons Ban” and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NY) created the “Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act.”
All three gun control measures failed to clear the Senate in April.
Bloomberg blamed Congress for their defeat, telling his audience that the Legislative Branch lacked “the courage to stand up to the increasingly extremist view of the NRA’s Washington lobbyists.”
Quoting Kenyon College alumnus and former President Rutherford B. Hayes, who said, “He serves his party best who serves his country best,” Bloomberg intimated that those who voted against those aforementioned measures failed to live up to that Hayes’ standard.
“Instead, we have a federal law that prohibits criminals and the mentally ill from buying guns — and we have a Congress that doesn’t have the courage to enforce it through a comprehensive background check system,” Bloomberg chided.
Toward the end of the address, Bloomberg spouted some statistics about gun-related deaths and said he had faith that this generation won’t fail to deliver like Congress did.
“I believe we will win — sooner or later. Because I believe in all of you,” said Bloomberg, “Your generation — more than any other, at least since the 1960s — is reshaping society in fundamental ways by making your values known and your voices heard.”
Bloomberg’s speech raises some interesting questions. First and foremost, is it reasonable to assume that the entire senior class at Kenyon believes in Bloomberg’s gun control agenda? Is it possible that there were graduates in attendance that are pro-gun and therefore felt alienated by Bloomberg’s speech?
Second, when Bloomberg rattled of those gun-related crime stats, did he mention that the homicide rate, violent crime and property crime have all uniformly declined over the past two decades (gun homicides are down 39 percent)? Did he also point out that mass shootings are NOT on the rise?
Lastly, while one can argue that everything is political or has political undertones, is it appropriate or fair to the audience to give a politically-minded address — whether its gun politics or social politics or economic politics, etc. — at a college graduation?
(Similarly, a North Dakota state representative connected abortions to mass shootings recently in a commencement speech).
What are your thoughts?