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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Interstate 95, which runs up the U.S. East Coast, is known to cops as the "Iron Pipeline" -- the conduit of choice for gun smugglers to move their hardware from the southern United States to New York city.
With formidable opponents in the gun manufacturers and gun owners, national politicians do little to stop this traffic, leaving gun control largely in the hands of local leaders.
"Where is the outrage in this country? Well, mayors see it," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "We're the ones who have to go to the funerals. We're the ones that have to look somebody in the eye and say your spouse or your parent or your child is not going to come home."
Since Bloomberg became mayor in 2002, every gun homicide in the city -- including the killing of eight police officers -- has been committed with an illegal gun, police say.
Nationally, the black market is the source for guns used in more than 90 percent of gun crimes.
Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns two years ago, a group that has grown to some 250 mayors representing cities with a population of 50 million in 40 states.
Their goal is to help police stop the flow of illegal guns used in crimes, and they want data on guns used in crimes to be made available to the public.
In the process, they clash with the National Rifle Association, which vigorously defends Americans' constitutional right to bear arms. The NRA wants gun trace data available only to the police.
The Supreme Court hears arguments on the meaning of that constitutional right on March 18.
Meanwhile the issue of gun control has been muted in the campaign for presidential elections in November. The mayors are attempting to force it onto the political agenda.
"I don't know what they are campaigning on. But if you kill 34 people a day in America, it's kind of hard to find an issue that's more important," Bloomberg said. "I think it would be a vote getter rather than a vote loser if they would stand up and tell the public what they would do if they were elected.
There were 12,682 gun homicides in the United States in 2005, the last year data are available from the Centers for Disease Control. All gun deaths totaled 30,694, including categories such as accidents and suicides, an average of 84 per day.
The numbers may astonish foreigners who cannot understand the U.S. passion for defending gun ownership rights. In the month of February alone, there were four episodes of gunmen killing people in public places: a shopping center, a town hall meeting, a pair of college campuses.
"I don't think that the Founding Fathers envisioned people carrying automatic weapons under their coats in a central city," Bloomberg said. "I have no objections to the Second Amendment or to hunters or anything else. I just think common sense says there's certain kinds of behavior that you can't permit because they would endanger society."
The NRA depicted Bloomberg as gun-grabbing octopus on the cover of its April 2007 magazine with the headline "Tentacles!" Bloomberg, 66, who has not fired a gun since he was Boy Scout, laughed at the cover, and he likes to brag about the NRA membership he was given as an anonymous and ironic gift.
"America has this freedom and it's very difficult for non-Americans to understand why we feel so passionately about it. It is the most unique freedom ever given to a people," said Andrew Arulanandam, director of public affairs for the NRA.
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Eddie Evans