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Running count of U.S. gun deaths goes on tour

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A truck carrying a billboard with a running tally of the number of Americans killed by gun violence since the January 8 massacre in Tucson departed New York on Wednesday for a two month tour of 25 U.S. states.

The Arizona shootings left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others wounded, and six dead.

As the billboard left Times Square the tally of those killed in gun violence since the Tucson incident was given as 1,300, with another 24 added by mid-morning.

The truck is the idea of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns -- a group of more than 500 leaders of U.S. cities who want the U.S. Congress to pass laws requiring stiffer background checks for gun buyers.

"It is time for Washington to listen to the 250,000 Americans that have signed our petition and take action; since the Tucson shooting more than 1,300 people have been killed with guns in the United States and that number continues to grow," Bloomberg said in a statement.

The group's online petition can be found at www.fixgunchecks.org.

A spokesman for the National Rifle Association, the country's best-known gun rights group, said the truck was an attempt by Bloomberg to court media attention.

"It would be more constructive if the truck showed how many prosecutions (for gun crimes) they've had," said NRA spokesman Andrew Arundalam.

Among the drivers of the truck is Omar Sheeha, whose sister Reema was killed in the April 16, 2007, massacre at Virginia Tech in which a gunman shot dead 32 people.

In January, Bloomberg caused a stir after announcing New York City investigators had performed an undercover sting in Arizona in which they said they bought guns like the one used in the Tucson rampage without a legally required background check.

(Reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr.; Editing by Mark Egan and Jerry Norton)

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