NEW YORK - The bi-partisan coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, led by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, was joined by Martin Luther King III and dozens of survivors and family members of gun violence victims to launch a national campaign urging Congress to take two simple but critical steps to fix our nation’s broken background check system: 1) fulfill the letter of the historic 1968 gun law and ensure that all names of people prohibited from buying a gun are in the background check system; and 2) fulfill the intent of the historic 1968 gun law by subjecting every gun sale to a background check.
“The time has clearly come to finally fulfill the intent of the common sense gun law passed after the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, by creating a loophole-free background check system for the sale of firearms,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Every day, 34 Americans are murdered with guns – and most of them are purchased or possessed illegally.”
“There are those who fail to truly read the 2nd amendment,” said Mayor Menino. “They ignore the need for a common sense approach to guns in our communities. The best way to respond to the heinous acts of violence we have seen in our nation's history is to prevent them from ever happening again. Lax screening in response to these tragic shootings is no virtue.”
“For decades we have tolerated senseless gun violence, which has struck down too many of our fellow citizens, particularly our young people,” said Martin Luther King III, President and CEO of the King Center. “If we want to create a nonviolent society, we must enforce our public safety laws to keep the angry and dangerous few from destroying the peace and harmony of the many. I wholeheartedly join Mayor Bloomberg in calling on the President and Congress to finally deliver on the long unfilled promise to make sure that every gun buyer passes a background check. It is unconscionable to do anything less.”
“President Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy, my uncle and my father, dedicated their lives to serving their country,” said Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland and eldest child of Robert F. Kennedy. “But because of assassins armed with guns, they both made the ultimate sacrifice, and their lives of service were cut short. The 34 Americans whose lives are cut short by a gun each day may not be presidents or senators, but each life is a future cut short, a life of accomplishments left undone, and a family torn apart. We owe a duty to each victim to make their life, and their sacrifice, a part of the national movement to fix our gun background check system so it is thorough, complete and comprehensive.”
“We’ve learned from recent shootings that it is vital that the federal gun background check system have accurate and complete information on people prohibited from possessing firearms,” said former Attorney General Michael Mukasey. “President Bush supported and Congress passed a piece of the necessary reform in 2007 after Virginia Tech, and it has had a significant impact by more than tripling the number of mental health records in the system. But it is clear, particularly after Tucson, that it was just one step on a longer path toward the effective and comprehensive background check system we need. I applaud America's mayors for their efforts to build a better system.”
“As Governor of Vermont, I received an A-rating from the NRA and I strongly support the right of law-abiding Americans to own a gun,” said Howard Dean. “I also believe with equal strength that felons, drug abusers, and the mentally ill have no right to guns. In fact, that’s been the law in our country for 43 years since the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. What we need now is a background check system that works to enforce the law – one that ensures that every record is in the system that belongs there and that every gun buyer goes through a background check. I stand with America’s mayors in their effort to make the system work.”
Historic 1968 Legislation
In 1968, after the assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Congress, at the urging of President Johnson, passed a law establishing the common-sense concept that certain categories of people including convicted felons, the mentally ill, and known drug abusers should not be allowed to possess or purchase guns.
Because no system was created for actually translating its intent into reality, the effectiveness of the 1968 act was undermined. It was not until 1993, when President Clinton signed the Brady Bill, that a national instant background check system, designed to prevent mentally unbalanced people from obtaining firearms, was created to help enforce the 1968 law.
It has become clear that the Brady Bill was not enough to fulfill the intent of the historic 1968 gun law. The Columbine High School shooters used guns that were purchased without a background check at a gun show. The Virginia Tech shooter passed a background check when he should have failed it due to his record of mental health problems.
In April 2007, after the Virginia Tech massacre which claimed the lives of 32 people, Congress passed the NICS Improvement Act to submit all the required records into the background check system. Congress has failed to provide enough funding to support these efforts. In FY 2010, Congress allocated $20 million to support state initiatives to submit records to the background check system, only 5% of the $375 million authorized by the NICS Improvement Act.
Millions of records of individuals who are prohibited by law from buying guns are still missing from the database. Ten states have not submitted any mental health records to NICS and 18 states have submitted fewer than 100 mental health records.
Two Simple Ideas
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan coalition of more than 550 mayors, proposes that the U.S. fulfill the intent of the 1968 law by fixing the broken background check system.
First, the system should contain all the records of felony convictions, domestic violence incidents, drug history, and determinations of mental illness that would prevent those categories of troubled people from buying guns. The new Congress should set a goal of getting this job finished within three years.
Second, Congress should subject every gun sale to a background check by closing the loopholes that permit guns to be sold without them. Licensed gun dealers are covered by the Brady Bill. But “occasional sellers,” for example those that sell firearms at gun shows, through classified ads or even on the internet, do not have to conduct background checks. The only way to prevent guns from falling into the hands of violent criminals, the mentally unstable, and other already prohibited dangerous persons is through a comprehensive national background check system with no loopholes. Reasonable exceptions would include, for example, transfers of guns within families, or by wills, or to people who have a valid state-issued gun permit issued within the last five years that meets or exceeds the Federal background check standard.
The Mayor and Martin Luther King III were joined by a number of survivors and family members of gun violence victims to call attention to the fact that 34 people in the United States lose their lives to gun violence every day. Among them were: Tom Mauser, father of Daniel Mauser, a victim of the 1999 Columbine High School tragedy; Omar and Randa Samaha, whose sister was shot and killed at Virginia Tech in 2007; Lynnette Alameddine, whose son was killed at Virginia Tech in 2007; Lori Haas, whose daughter survived 2 gun shots in the back of the head at Virginia Tech; and Jeannette Richardson, whose son was killed in the front yard of her home in Virginia in 2003; Toby Hoover, whose husband, Dale Stone, was shot in 1973 in Ohio; Sally Sheasby, whose son was shot and killed in Ohio in 2005; Deborah Sohovich, whose sone was shot and killed in Columbus, Ohio; Rebecca Pryor, whose friend was shot and killed in Pennsylvania; Rev. Donald and Kim Odom, parents of Steven Odom who was shot and killed in 2007; and Bryan Miller, brother of Mike Miller, an FBI agent who was shot and killed in 1994 and director of public advocacy for Heeding God’s Call.
New York City area family members and survivors include: Steven and Patty McDonald, Steven is a NYPD police officer who was shot in the line of duty, his wife, Patty McDonald, is the Mayor of Malverne, NY; Vada Vasquez, a student at Bronx Latin High School who was shot as she walked home from school in 2009; Tatyana Timoshenko, mother of Russel Timoshenko, an NYPD officer who was shot and killed in 2007; Kenny McLaughlin, a teacher at Grand Street Campus High School in Brooklyn, who was shot during a 1996 mugging in Brooklyn; Arlene and Jack Locicero, parents of Amy Locicero Federici, who was shot and killed in the 1993 Long Island Rail Road massacre; Gloria Cruz, whose 10-year niece was shot and killed, and established the Bronx chapter of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence; Devorah Halberstam, whose son was murdered in 1994 in a terrorist attack on the Brooklyn Bridge; and Shaina Harrison, whose cousin was shot and killed in 2009 and is working with New Yorkers Against Gun Violence;
Also, joining the group was Rev. James Coen, Pastor of the Oak Ridge Presbyterian Church, where Phyllis Schneck, one of the Tucson victims was an active member.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns today launched a new online advocacy campaign, www.fixgunchecks.org to call attention to the glaring problems in our nation’s gun background check system, and allow citizens to join a movement to fix it.
Poll Finds Strong Support for Common Sense Improvements
The week after the Tucson shooting Mayors Against Illegal Guns released the results of a poll conducted jointly by Momentum Analysis, a polling firm with Democratic clients, and American Viewpoint, a polling firm with Republican clients. The poll reveals that Americans and gun owners strongly support a sensible approach to gun laws that protects the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans while also keeping criminals and other dangerous people from accessing firearms
The poll of over 1,000 registered voters was conducted the week after the Tucson shooting. According to the poll, 90 percent of Americans and 90 percent of gun owners support fixing gaps in government databases that are meant to prevent the mentally ill, drug abusers and others from buying guns. Also according to the poll, 86 percent of Americans and 81 percent of gun owners support requiring all gun buyers to pass a background check, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter who they buy it from.
About Mayors Against Illegal Guns
Since its inception in April 2006, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has grown from 15 mayors to over 550. Mayors Against Illegal Guns has united the nation’s mayors around these common goals: protecting their communities by holding gun offenders and irresponsible gun dealers accountable, demanding access to trace data that is critical to law enforcement efforts to combat illegal gun trafficking, and working with legislators to fix gaps, weaknesses and loopholes in the law that make it far too easy for criminals and other prohibited purchasers to get guns.