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Washington - Hundreds of U.S. mayors gave a rousing ovation Saturday to Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy after he blasted the entertainment industry for helping "de-stigmatize" violence at a time when American society is uncertain how to deal with mental health issues.
Speaking with the fervor born of the shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Malloy told the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors that the nation should remove the stigma from mental health issues.
"If we spent as much time and energy on de-stigmatizing mental health treatment as we do in the proliferation of these video games that de-stigmatize violence, we as a society would make great gains," Malloy declared.
Malloy, the mayor of Stamford for 14 years and former trustee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, received an enthusiastic reception from the group that has a long history of urging tougher gun restrictions.
Referring to that part of his career, Malloy told the group that he appreciated "the opportunity to come home again" and then proceeded to lacerate the entertainment industry and gun manufacturers for opposing steps to reduce gun violence.
He urged universal background checks for gun buyers and limits on assault weapons and the size of ammunition magazines.
There's no reason to allow anyone to buy a gun without a background check, he declared.
"Actually, there is a reason," he continued. "People make money. And in making that money, they think they have an interest that is superior to the interest that we have in our own children, in our own cities." Referring to gun manufacturers and retailers, Malloy said their focus on profits leads them "to do everything in their power to block wider use of background checks that might lead to the disqualification of potential gun buyers.''
From that point of view, "the loss of potential purchasers is greater than the value of your grandchildren - and that is wrong! And it has to be addressed. And we can't stop until it happens. ... The American people understand this is not a fair tradeoff."
Speaking without notes, Malloy evoked gasps from the audience when he said on "the day that Newtown happened, there were games available that actually allowed people to go into a school in the game and "shoot 'em up."
"Why do we do that?" he continued. "When we're willing to de-stigmatize violence and willing to bring it home to your living room or your den and put it on a 50-inch screen" and play the video game that gives you points "when you hit someone with your semiautomatic and more points depending on how many times you hit someone with your semiautomatic, where is the social value in that? Is this the kind of thing we want to be involved in as a nation?"
The shootings in Newtown were "life changing for all of us in so many ways," Malloy said, as he described the heroic efforts of staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School to defend their young students.
In his plea for expanded mental health access, Malloy said that "many of us at some time in our lives need treatment in the mental health arena," citing depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse.
"And the vast percentage of people recover - and yet we continue to stigmatize mental health treatment," he said, as he urged steps to improve access to mental health treatment.
He blamed the National Rifle Association for pressuring Congress to block a federal study of gun violence and to stall on approving a permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the federal agency that regulates guns.
"And the industry that produces these (violent video) games is refusing to pay for a study of the long-term impact of those" games.
Separately, Malloy said in an interview that he spent "an hour and 15 minutes" Friday evening with Vice President Joe Biden to review the administration's push for more gun restrictions.
He said gun manufacturers "are afraid to step out in front" in the gun controversy because "they are fearful of a boycott, that they would be punished in the marketplace" for supporting any gun restrictions.
Malloy scoffed at speculation that he had talked with Biden about a possible post in the Obama administration.
"I like my job," he said. "I have no interest in moving to Washington - or to Rome or Paris or Ireland."
He praised Biden for doing "an exceptional job" in reaching out to the Newtown community, though he noted that the families of some victims don't want their private grieving to be interrupted.
He noted that Biden had lost his wife and 1-year-old daughter in a traffic accident in 1972, a tragedy that he said nourished Biden's "great personal empathy."
Malloy said he was planning to attend a reception at the vice president's official mansion and be in the audience on Monday when President Obama is inaugurated for a second term.