Gun nonsense in Mississippi

Posted: May 11, 2006 12:05 AM

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is seeking allies in his war on “illegal guns.”  The mayor recently held a summit for fellow mayors at Gracie Mansion in Manhattan, attracting the mayors of Dallas, Boston, Hartford, and several other major American cities. They signed a “statement of principle” in which they pledged to fight legislation in Congress that would keep Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) trace data out of the hands of city attorneys (more on that in a moment). They proclaimed they aren’t enemies of gun owners, and vowed to go after guns on the street illegally, rather than lawfully owned firearms. Yet one mayor at Bloomberg’s little rally might be illegally carrying a gun of his own.

Mississippi’s attorney general is currently investigating Jackson, Mississippi Mayor Frank Melton. While the attorney general hasn’t discussed the specifics of the investigation, the Clarion-Ledger newspaper reports that Melton is facing a number of troubling accusations, including carrying a concealed handgun without a license and “obtaining a false arrest warrant to hold someone in jail.” In fact, local media in Jackson have portrayed the mayor as a man who is using his position for desperate and increasingly bizarre pleas for attention.

Melton made national headlines last week when he used his police detail to pull over school buses in Jackson (a misdemeanor, by the way). At the time, Melton said, “I wanted to touch them [the high school students]…. I went through the buses and shook their hands and hugged them and told them how proud I was of them.” It turns out a crew from the NBC program “Dateline” was following Melton at the time.

Melton has also received extensive criticism for his unusual approach to fighting crime.  Melton has accompanied police officers as they conduct warrantless searches of homes, cars, and individuals. The mayor has even placed private citizens in “protective custody” without alerting the local district attorney. They may call it “protective custody” in Jackson, but it looks more like kidnapping from where I’m sitting. 

Melton’s attire while going on these police raids may also violate the law. The mayor carries a holstered pistol, which the state attorney general’s office classifies as carrying a concealed firearm. There’s one problem: Until last week, Melton didn’t have a concealed carry license, meaning Melton could have been carrying one of those “illegal guns” he’s vowed to go after. 

There’s one more irony here. One of the things Mayor Bloomberg is pushing for is the release of ATF “trace data.” New York City’s mayor says this information can show that a small number of “rogue dealers” are intentionally supplying criminals with massive numbers of firearms. The ATF has said that the “trace data” does not and cannot show that information, because a trace doesn’t mean that a firearm has been used in a crime.  Despite that, Bloomberg wants that data in order to use it in civil cases against gun manufacturers and gun store owners. One of the statements of principle that Bloomberg’s allies (including Frank Melton) had to sign at the gun summit was a pledge to fight for the release of this information. 
With that in mind, it’s interesting to point out that Melton has publicly said he will not release any crime statistics for Jackson. Why would the mayor push for the release of sensitive law enforcement documents while saying the public doesn’t have a right to know how bad (or good) the local crime rate might be? Columnists and pundits in Jackson have been calling on the mayor to release these crime figures for months, yet the closest the mayor has come to doing so is to give the figures to a non-profit he used to head. The non-profit group says it will “audit” the crime stats and release them to the public sometime this summer. 

Mayor Melton seems to be suffering from an increasingly common malady I call “Nagin’s Disease.” Its chief symptom is the delusion that being mayor is akin to being a Supreme Leader. In fact, earlier this month Melton declared “I am the final authority” in Jackson. Not quite, Mr. Mayor. The last time I checked, you still have to follow the Constitution and laws of the land.