As a parent and grandparent, I remain overcome with sadness, grief and outrage by the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. This unspeakable act of violence will forever imprint December 14, 2012 in our hearts and minds, and my heart goes out to the families impacted by this senseless tragedy and the many others we have recently witnessed across the United States.
As a Mayor who has seen too many lives forever altered by gun violence, it is my responsibility to fight for action. Now is the time for that action. Each day in the United States, 33 people are murdered by guns. Our nation has been brought to a tipping point. Now is the time for a real dialogue on national gun reform rooted in common sense.
Six years ago, I joined New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to create Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Today, our bipartisan coalition is more than 800 Mayors strong, and we’ve joined forces with more than 900,000 Americans and 100 survivors of gun violence to urge President Obama to put forward an agenda that will make it harder for dangerous people to possess guns and easier for police and prosecutors to crack down on them. I encourage you to join people from all walks of life who have signed our Demand a Plan petition by visiting DemandAPlan.org. That agenda would:
- Require every gun buyer to pass a criminal background check. Background checks are the only systematic way to stop felons, domestic abusers and other dangerous people from buying firearms. But they still avoid these checks online and at gun shows, where unlicensed “private sellers” are not required by federal law to conduct the checks. Millions of gun sales — estimated at more than 40 percent of the U.S. annual total — are conducted through private sellers. Federal legislation known as The Fix Gun Checks Act (H.R.1781/S.436) would close this enormous gap in our laws by requiring a criminal background check for every gun sale.
- Get high capacity rifles and ammunition magazines off our streets. Military-style weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines have no appropriate civilian function. They are designed to kill large numbers of people quickly and are disproportionately used to kill law enforcement officers; approximately one in every five law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty is killed with an assault weapon. The time has come to review the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and draft a new law that will take these weapons out of our communities.
- Make gun trafficking a federal crime: Today, there is no clear and effective statute making gun trafficking a crime. Prosecutors are instead forced to rely on a weak law prohibiting the business of selling guns without a federal license, which carries the same punishment as trafficking chicken or livestock. Mayors Against Illegal Guns supports proposals to empower law enforcement to investigate and prosecute gun traffickers and their criminal networks.
As the nation engages in a dialogue on legislation and policy to make communities safer, our own Boston Police Department continues to remove illegal guns from Boston’s neighborhoods. Despite some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, our law enforcement officials continue to remove weapons due to glaring loopholes in federal law. This year, the Boston Police Department has removed more than 500 illegal firearms from our streets. Sixty percent of all crime guns recovered by BPD come from outside the state, demonstrating a clear need for nationwide laws.
Preventing gun violence—whether a mass shooting in a school or a murder on a street corner – will take much more than strengthening our gun laws. We must reverse the culture of violence in our nation so that a violent act isn’t the first response to settling a difference or compensating for a wrong. We need to strengthen and more adequately fund our mental health system so that we can identify troubled individuals earlier and get them the help they need. But strengthening our gun laws should not have to wait for these other actions to occur. It’s clear: The time for action is now.
—Mayor Thomas M. Menino