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Sunday, December 11, 2016

WASHINGTON — It’s understandable if unfortunate that the controversy surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin has polarized the country along both racial and ideological lines. But there is one issue that should not have any racial connotations: the urgency of repealing “Stand Your Ground” laws.

And leave it to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to speak the blunt truth about why these laws are dangerous — and why the National Rifle Association keeps pushing them anyway.

“In reality,” Bloomberg said in a speech before the National Press Club last week, “the NRA’s leaders weren’t interested in public safety. They were interested in promoting a culture where people take the law into their own hands and face no consequences for it. Let’s call that by its real name: vigilantism.”

On guns, Bloomberg is strong and everyone else is feckless, to paraphrase the late columnist Murray Kempton.

OK, not exactly everyone else. Bloomberg’s partners in the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns — notably Boston’s Mayor Tom Menino, the organization’s co-chair — have filled the void left in state legislatures, Congress and the White House by moderates, liberals and many conservatives who ought to know better but are too petrified by the NRA to confront it. Mayors face the daily toll taken by gun laws dictated by gun lobbyists and are less easily intimidated.

“Feckless” is a favorite word of columnists. Its first meanings, according to Webster’s, are “weak” and “ineffective,” and it is an ineffectiveness spawned by weakness that explains why Stand Your Ground laws spread through legislatures like a virus. By Bloomberg’s count, they are now on the books in 25 states. These laws didn’t arise in response to broad, spontaneous popular demand. As both The Washington Post and The New York Times reported last week, the idea came from on high, courtesy of the NRA, which worked closely with a right-wing group called the American Legislative Exchange Council.

“It was the NRA taking a stealthy fight to the states,” Mark Glaze, the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told me in an interview, “and 25 flowers bloomed.”

Resistance to the gun lobby has grown so feeble and the NRA has won so many victories that its legislative maestros must find ever more creative ways to prove its relevance.