By Neil Bomberg
On January 11, National League of Cities President Marie Lopez Rogers wrote to Vice President Joseph Biden about the impact of gun violence on cities and towns across America.
"As you know, gun violence has become an all too common sight in our cities and towns," said Rogers. "Every day, as mayors and council members, we witness it in the eyes of family members who have lost a loved one to gun violence, in the tears of a spouse or child of a police officer who was gunned down while protecting his fellow citizens from harm, or in the pained soul of a community that has been turned upside down by an unspeakable act like the death of 20 innocent children.
"I am proud to say that America's local elected officials stand with you and the President as you work to reduce the epidemic of gun violence that plagues our great nation by addressing the availability of firearms and ammunition, and the various social and health-related issues that contribute to this violence. While we respect the Second Amendment rights of every American, we also know that with rights come responsibilities."
The issue of gun violence is not new to NLC. NLC's National Municipal Policy on Public Safety and Crime Prevention has long called for federal action to curb automatic weapons and establish a system of universal background checks. More recently, resolutions were adopted by the membership that called for greater federal efforts to eliminate illegal guns, and asked that the Centers for Disease Control take a more active role in determining the causes of gun violence, and addressing the public health issues that often accompany gun violence. Among the activities it has long been involved with are efforts to reduce gang activity and black-male-on-black-male crime.
In the letter to the Vice President, Rogers made clear that as an organization, NLC's National Municipal Policy would support a comprehensive proposal to reduce gun violence that includes:
• the registration of all handguns and the licensing of all firearms owners;
• a ban on automatic weapons, and armor piercing bullets (except for military purposes);
• a 30-day waiting period for the purchase and transfer of all firearms;
• the engagement of the Centers for Disease Control in an effort to understand the mental health aspects of gun violence;
• expansion of funding for mental health services through the Affordable Care Act;
• mandatory sentences for the use of firearms in the commission of a crime;
• federal funding for local crime prevention programs that address gun violence;
• a requirement that all firearms dealers be licensed by the federal government and be in full compliance with all state and local laws;
• the lifting of federal laws that limit the federal government's ability to share "trace data" and other firearms data with local governments; and
• the option for states, cities and towns to adopt stricter standards and rules regarding the purchase, storage and possession of firearms.
A few days later, speaking before an audience of gun control advocates, President Obama echoed many of the same themes as Rogers. He noted the devastating toll that gun violence has had on the nation, and not just in Aurora, CO or Newtown, CT, but on the streets of American cities like Memphis, TN, and Topeka, KN, where police officers were gunned down, or in Webster, NY, where firefighters were the object of a gunned madman. He also used the opportunity to unveil a plan that he and Vice President Biden had developed to address the nation's gun violence epidemic.
The President vowed to make gun control "a central issue" of his second term, and to use the powers of his office to do whatever he could to reduce gun violence across America. He said that he would present Congress with several firearms proposals before the end of January, take action where he could through executive orders, and try to engage the nation in a serious conversation about the gun violence epidemic. "This time, the words need to lead to action," he said.
The President indicated that his proposals to Congress would include:
• requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales;
• reinstating a ban on assault weapons;
• limiting ammunition magazines to ten rounds;
• banning the possession of "cop killer" or armor piercing bullets;
• increasing criminal penalties for so-called "straw purchases" (when someone buys a weapon for someone else) and lying on background checks;
• allowing COPS funds to be used to pay for school resource officers;
• expanding the nation's tracking system on violent deaths to cover all states;
• expanding mental health programs for young adults; and
• confirming a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
He also initiated 23 executive orders to address gun violence, some of which included:
• requiring federal agencies to make available the information necessary to conduct adequate background checks;
• addressing legal barriers that might make it difficult for states to share mental health information;
• improving incentives for states to share information with the background checks system;
• reexamining the categories of individuals prohibited from purchasing guns;
• starting a safe gun ownership campaign;
• directing the Center for Disease Control to research the causes and implications of gun violence;
• clarifying the scope of mental health services available under Medicaid;
• completing mental health parity regulations to ensure the availability of affordable and sufficient mental health services; and
• starting a national dialogue on mental health.
Finally he announced that the third leg would be a national dialogue on guns, gun violence, and ways that all Americans can work to help reduce the incidence of gun violence that would be lead by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
In response to the President's proposals, Rogers said, "While we focus on the devastating tragedies like Aurora, Tucson and Newtown, we must also recognize and respond to the gun violence that is an all too common occurrence in our nation's cities and towns. Families across this nation are haunted by the memories of loved ones lost and the nation needs to act to stop this preventable epidemic."
Details: To read NLC's policy on firearms and ammunition, part of the National Municipal Policy (NMP) Public Safety and Crime Prevention platform, please click here.