By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.
Mayor of Lewiston
For the readers of this column who were wondering when I would be writing about the need to enact gun safety laws after the Tucson massacre, well, here goes!
On January 20, 2011 the United States Conference of Mayors adopted the following resolution in the aftermath of the massacre in Tucson, Arizona. Here it is:
In Support of Gun Safety Legislation to Ban the Use of Large Capacity Magazines and Strengthen the National Background Check System
WHEREAS, on the morning of January 8, 2011, gunshots fired in one of our nation’s great cities reverberated through all of our cities; and
WHEREAS, a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl were among the six people killed that day in Tucson, and Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the target of the shooting rampage, was among the 13 more who were wounded; and
WHEREAS, the shooter was able to hit 19 people in a matter of seconds because he was using a high-capacity magazine, and was stopped from wounding or killing even more only because he had to reload; and
WHEREAS, prior to Tucson, high capacity magazines were used in the most notorious and deadly mass shootings in America, including the massacres on the Long Island Railroad, in Luby’s restaurant, at Columbine, at Virginia Tech, and at Fort Hood; and
WHEREAS, for 10 years federal law banned the use of large capacity magazines as part of the assault weapons ban, but that the law was allowed to expire in 2004; and
WHEREAS, legislation has been introduced in the House, and will shortly be introduced in the Senate, that would ban magazines of more than 10 rounds and close a loophole in the previous ban in which magazines manufactured before the law went into effect could be sold or transferred; and
WHEREAS, the recent shooting in Tucson also reveals that millions of records are still missing from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), enabling prohibited purchasers, including the mentally ill and drug abusers, to pass background checks and purchase firearms from licensed gun dealers; and
WHEREAS, after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, Congress passed the “NICS Improvement Act,” designed to increase the number of mental health records submitted by states to the federal background check database, but has so far appropriated only 5.3 percent of funding necessary to implement the reforms, and
WHEREAS, while licensed gun dealers are required to run criminal background checks on all buyers, loopholes in the law, such as the so-called “Gun Show Loophole,” enable criminals to avoid background checks if they purchase firearms from private sellers who are not federally licensed; and
WHEREAS, The United States Conference of Mayors has had long standing policy supporting gun safety, which includes support for the assault weapons ban and a call for its reinstatement, and for strengthening the national background check system and eliminating loopholes in it,
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that The U.S. Conference of Mayors strongly supports the Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act (H.R. 308) and commends New York Representative Carolyn McCarthy, herself a victim of a mass shooting, for introducing this important legislation so quickly after the tragedy occurred in Tucson, and New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg for his commitment to introducing the bill in the Senate; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Conference of Mayors pledges to mobilize mayors across the nation to work toward prompt passage of this legislation which would help ensure the safety of all Americans; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Conference of Mayors calls on the President of the United States to make passage of this legislation a priority of his Administration; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Conference of Mayors calls on Congress to fully fund the 2007 NICS Improvement Act; make other modifications to ensure that all records of felons, mentally ill, and drug abusers actually are in the system; and close loopholes in the laws, such as the “Gun Show Loophole,” to ensure that criminals, the mentally ill, and drug abusers do not slip through cracks in the background check system.
When I was the U.S. Marshal for the District of Maine, I served on the Board of Directors of the Maine Citizens Against Gun Violence. Now in my capacity as Mayor of Lewiston, I and over 550 mayors nationwide are members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG). All of us have a duty and a responsibility to keep those we represent safe. How many more tragedies do we in the U.S. have to endure before State Legislatures and Congress act to protect those they serve?
The National Rifle Association (NRA) basically opposes any and all legislation that would protect the people of America. I find that most unfortunate. You will see this opposition with reforms that congress will attempt to enact as we go forward. Unfortunately, politicians are fearful of the powerful NRA Gun Lobby. If they stood up to this lobby, they would note that the majority of citizens in this country support good gun legislation that would help keep our people safe.
A bipartisan poll, commissioned by MAIG found that there was broad consensus among the public including gun owners to ensure rights of responsible, law-abiding Americans and to close legal gaps to keep guns out of the wrong hands. For example, 86% of Americans including 81% of gun owners support background checks on all gun sales.
If you believe, as I do, that laws should be enacted to get all the names of people who should be prohibited from buying guns into the background check system and require a background check for every gun sale in America, I invite you to go to this website www.FixGunChecks.org and join us 550 mayors by adding your name to the already 200,000 Americans who have signed on for this purpose. I also ask you to urge your friends and relatives to join you and us in this effort.
Since 1968 more than 400,000 people have been murdered with guns in the United States. Every day, 34 people are murdered with the use of guns. Just imagine if some 12,000 people were killed in airplane crashes every year, all airplanes would be grounded until we found the cause. It would be in the news daily, yet we hardly hear anything about the gun violence nationally.
Just this past week, Maine Rep. Anne Haskell (D-Portland) with strong support from Rep. Anna D. Blodgett (D-Augusta) presented a bill that required the 10-member Legislative Council (made up of leadership of both Democratic and Republican parties) to pass by a majority vote to allow submitting a bill for consideration by the Maine Legislature after the deadline to submit bills. Representative Haskell’s bill was to consider, after the Tucson shootings, a limit on high-capacity clips beyond the 10-round clips they were originally built to hold.
Here is how the vote went. It needed a total of six members of the leadership from both parties in order to be considered by a committee. The proposed bill died because of the 5-5 votes by the Maine Legislative Council. The four Democrats voted to allow it to be considered as an emergency bill and only one Republican voted in favor. Consequently, the Republicans voted against allowing it to even be debated in light of what occurred in Tucson.
Do we believe that what happened in Tucson couldn’t happen here? I think not! Shame on those, in the Republican leadership, who voted against this propose legislation. Are they merely puppets of the NRA? In speaking with some of them, I firmly believe that they are the puppets whose strings are in fact pulled by the NRA. How shameful!
They are going against the will of most Americans to include gun owners. Perhaps we should follow the money. Bravo to those who choose to do what is best to keep America and Maine safe. Representatives Haskell and Blodgett, I admire you for your stance, as well as those who voted in the affirmative.
It is high time to end this madness!
See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.