Mayors vs. illegal guns

Another senseless mass killing has put the issue of gun control and illegal guns front and center in the public debate.  Sadly, we’ve been here before. Tucson. Columbine. Fort Hood. Virginia Tech. West Nickel Mines Amish School. After every tragedy Americans seem to have a bout of national soul searching that evaporates with the next headlined crisis.

Still, taking a moment to consider the statistics should make all of us weep: (Sources:  The Children’s Defense Fund and the National Center for Health Statistics)

  • 1 child killed by gunfire every 3 hours.8 children killed by gunfire every day
  • 50 children killed by gunfire every week
  • 34 adults and children killed by gunfire every day
  • 511 police officers killed by gunfire over the past decade
  • 3,012 children and teens killed by gunfire in a single year
  • 90,000 children and teens killed by gunfire between 1979 and 2001
  • 400,000 Americans killed by gunfire since 1968.


Now, 500 mayors representing red and blue states across this country want to move beyond weeping.  They are working to change the conversation and challenge  lawmakers to go beyond symbolic mourning and take effective action to protect the citizenry. Even before the most recent headline-grabbing tragedy in Tucson, the mayors had joined together in the fight to save the lives of our children and loved ones from the scourge of crimes using illegal guns.

Putting to rest the notion that crimes with illegal guns are centered solely in mega-urban areas or in one region alone, the mayors hail from cities large and small as well as small towns in thirty-eight states.  (States not represented are Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.)

They call themselves Mayors Against Illegal Guns.  The organization was founded in 2006 by Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, and Thomas Menino, mayor of Boston, who serve as chair and co-chair, respectively.  The founding group consisted of fifteen mayors.   Today the organization is committed to “supporting the Second Amendment and the rights of citizens to own guns” while calling for stricter enforcement of existing laws.

The mayors’ coalition—unique in that its members are elected officials who are on the frontlines of enforcement — is the newest advocate on the block among leading organizations calling for stricter enforcement of existing laws and more strict gun-control legislation:  The Violence Policy Center, The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the Brady Campaign, Americans United for Safe Streets, and The Joyce Foundation.

Since the tragic shooting in Tucson, the coalition has raised the volume on its public calls for action with an open letter published in The Washington Post on January 25, 2010, challenging President Obama and Congress to “fix the broken background check system by taking two important steps:  Ensure the names of all people who should be prohibited from buying a gun are in the system and close the loopholes in the background check system by requiring a background check for every gun sale.” Increased media appearances by Mayor Bloomberg and the release of an online undercover video, entitled “Gun Show Undercover Arizona,” videotaped by New York City undercover investigators at a gun show in Phoenix two weeks after the Tucson shooting, highlight the  background-check loopholes at gun shows.

The Statement of Principles signed by every mayor in the coalition could not be more sensible:

Whereas:  30,000 Americans across the country are killed every year as a result of gun violence, destroying families and communities in big cities and small towns; and

Whereas:  As Mayors, we are duty-bound to do everything in our power to protect our residents, especially our children, from harm and there is no greater threat to public safety than the threat of illegal guns;

Now, therefore, we resolve to work together to find innovative new ways to advance the following principles:

Punish–to the maximum extent of the law–criminals who possess, use, and traffic in illegal guns.

Target and hold accountable irresponsible gun dealers who break the law by knowingly selling guns to straw purchasers.

Oppose all federal efforts to restrict cities’ right to access, use, and share trace data that is so essential to effective enforcement, or to interfere with the ability of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to combat illegal gun trafficking.

Work to develop and use technologies that aid in the detection and tracing of illegal guns.

Support all local state and federal legislation that targets illegal guns; coordinate legislative, enforcement, and litigation strategies; and share information and best practices.

Invite other cities to join us in this new national effort.

[Editor’s note: To see if your mayor is a member, check Mayors Against Illegal Guns’ roster here.]

On January 18, 2010, Mayors Against Illegal Guns released the results of a poll sponsored by the group. To demonstrate that the consensus opinion crosses party lines, the poll was conducted by two pollsters:  Momentum Analysis who focused on Democratic clients and American Viewpoint who focused on Republican clients.  The results demonstrate a broad consensus, even among gun owners, that supports tougher laws to keep guns out of the hands of felons, the mentally ill, drug abusers, and individuals on the terrorist watch list.

  • 86% of Americans support background checks on all gun sales.
  • 81% of gun owners support background checks on all gun sales.
  • 90% of Americans, including gun owners, support fixing gaps in the government’s database that is intended to prevent the mentally ill, drug abusers, felons, and individuals on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns.

The mayors have developed a commonsense approach that includes:


Closing the Terror Gap: Under federal law as it stands on the books today, individuals on the terrorist watch list may legally purchase firearms and explosives.


Closing the Loophole: Currently, individuals may purchase firearms at gun shows without a background check.  Instituting background checks at gun shows is supported by 85% of gun owners.

Providing a Blueprint for Federal Action:


  1. Improving background checks.
  2. Policing problematic gun shows.
  3. ATF resources and structure.
  4. More effective crime gun tracing.
  5. More effective partnering among government, law enforcement, community groups, and responsible gun industry representatives.
  6. Enforcement of existing laws on especially dangerous firearms.

Mayor Bloomberg and the other 499 mayors of Mayors Against Illegal Guns seem to be working with renewed dedication to use the media’s focus, following the latest tragedy, to create momentum to guide the body politic toward a more sensible, commonsense approach to gun safety.  In a recent interview on the Rachel Maddow Show, Bloomberg shared his hopes—and perhaps the hopes of many—when he said, “One of these days the public is going to say ‘enough’.”