January 18, 2013

No. 28


Mayors Will Play Crucial Role in Convincing Congress to Take Action

Data Shows Smart Gun Laws Reduce Gun Violence and Gun Trafficking 

The following are Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s remarks as delivered this afternoon at the 81st U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting at the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C.: 

“Thank you. Michael thanks for those kind words. I’m sure you need something or other – nobody does that for nothing. You know, I’ve just got to tell you the story about Nutter. He has done a spectacular job in Philadelphia in everything except one thing: the 76ers. 

“As a matter of fact, I take the subway to work most days, been doing it for a long time, and the only time anybody has ever yelled at me, I was getting off the subway train and I turn, this guy, big hulking guy and he glares at me before the doors close and he screams: ‘Fix the Knicks.’ Well, this year the Knicks are having a good season, I must have done something right. Of course, it did take ten years. 

“It is great to be here with all of you. Whether you are the Mayor of a little town or a big city, there are a lot of responsibilities that we all share in common. We have to balance the budget. We have to find new ways to create jobs. And we have to deliver quality, efficient services. 

“But perhaps the number one responsibility we all have is protecting the lives of our citizens. 

“The public holds us accountable in keeping neighborhoods safe. And we know that the biggest and most serious threat to our neighborhoods in this day and age is a criminal, a mentally ill individual, a person with substance abuse problems – any of those, particularly if they have a gun in their hand. 

“Criminals and the mentally ill are prohibited, as you know, by federal law from owning guns. But as you know, the enforcement of that law is a tragic joke and all of us have to deal with the results of that. Criminals can buy guns as easily as logging onto the internet – or just by stopping at a gun show and there’s no background check. 

“As mayors, we see people breaking the law and we say: ‘How do we stop them?’ Unfortunately, you are here in a city where that’s not what people do. Here in Washington, for far too long, elected officials have been watching people break the law, and have said absolutely nothing. Or they have said: ‘I support the Second Amendment.’ Well that’s nice – so do most of us. 

“Our bipartisan coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns now has more than 800 members, including many people in this room. And I think we all support the Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment does give you the right to bear arms. Having said that, the Supreme Court has ruled that there are legitimate controls and regulations that are consistent with the Second Amendment and that we should use those to protect the public. 

“Boston Mayor Tom Menino, who co-founded the coalition, deserves enormous credit for its growth and success, and so do mayors like Mayor Nutter and Mayor Villaraigosa, and Mayor Rybak, and a whole bunch of you. 

“But the real strength of our coalition and the real force that we have to protect our citizens is right here in this room. The mayors of small cities and medium size cities and big cities, the mayors of cities from the east and the west and the north and the south, Republican mayors, independent mayors, Democratic mayors, mayors from urban and suburban and rural areas. 

“Now, over the past month, we’ve had more than 100 new mayors join from around the country – including the Mayors from Tucson, Arizona Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Oak Creek, Wisconsin Mayor Stephen Scaffidi, and Blacksburg, Virginia Mayor Ron Rordam. And we’d be happy to have lots of others join. 

“The more of us that we have together, the better we’ll be able to make the case to Congress why sensible gun laws have to be on the books and have to be enforced. We just cannot continue to have 33 people a day killed in the United States with guns, and over 40 people commit suicide with guns every single day. 

“But keeping guns away from criminals and other dangerous people has nothing to do with the Second Amendment, and it’s not something that we can do very effectively at the local level. 

“This is not a constitutional question, but it is a political courage issue, and it is an issue for Washington. We can’t do it alone. 

“This week, President Obama and Vice President Biden did step up and put forward a comprehensive plan for attacking gun violence. I give them both a lot of credit for listening to the voices of everyday Americans and putting public safety ahead of special interest. 

“The public in this country has changed their views. When you see Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe, a big gun advocate, all of a sudden come out and say enough is enough, that tells you something. If you go and you talk to your constituents, you will find that even the most hardened of them have now started to say, ‘Well, wait a second, maybe we have gone a little bit too far. Maybe there is a way to protect the Second Amendment rights, but also to keep guns out of the hands of minors, out of the hands of criminals, out of the hands of substance abuse users, people who have mental problems – there’s a whole bunch of people that should not have guns,’ I think we all understand that. And I think the public is ready for a change. 

“Our coalition had been in close touch with the Vice President in developing the plan, and we were encouraged to see it include virtually every one of the major elements that we sought. But as the President himself has said: The most important parts of his plan require action from Congress, and that’s what I wanted to talk to you for a few minutes about. 

“The trouble is, Congress is more removed from this issue than mayors are. Congress people don’t get called in the middle of the night when a police officer has been shot – mayors do. Congress people and Senators don’t have to go and explain to a mother or father or sister or brother, a spouse or a child, why their loved one is not going to come home, and how the person that shot them got the gun, and why we didn’t, as a society, do something to protect them and to keep that from happening. 

“We understand what it’s like, and they don’t, and so it’s incumbent on us to explain to the people in Washington that when we have to go to the hospital and we have to look the police officer’s parents or spouse in the eye and explain that their worst nightmare has come true – their loved one won’t be coming home – it’s up to the Congress people to do something about it. 

“When someone says: ‘The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun’ – I ask them: What about our police officers? They are good guys. They have guns. And all too often across this country, they get shot – and all too often, they do not survive. 

“Those of us in elected office have a responsibility, I think, to protect those whom we ask to protect the public. And it’s up to us to convince the members of Congress that our officers deserve laws that help keep guns away from criminals. 

“We also need members of Congress to understand that when criminals have easy access to guns, not only do our police officers get shot and killed, not only do innocent children die, our economy suffers. 

“Perhaps the single most important economic development tool that exists is public safety. Everywhere you look in America, when violent crime has been cut, jobs have been added. It is no coincidence, I don’t think, that in New York City – which is the safest big city in the country, and has also been leading the nation in job growth – it’s because of low crime. 

“People come to New York when they find out that it is safe. They come as tourists; they come to start businesses; they come to work; they come to get an education; they come to use our hospitals. It all starts with low crime, and the correlation between low crime and fewer guns is almost 100 percent. 

“I don’t think that New York has the answers to everything, and there’s a lot of things that apply in New York that won’t apply in other cities. But if you can keep the guns out of the hands of people that current Federal law says they shouldn’t have them, you will have an awful lot safer society. 

“Life expectancy in New York City is three years greater than the average in America, and one of the big reasons when you look at the data is an awful lot fewer murders and a lot fewer suicides. 

“The fact is, reducing the number of murders to record lows is a big reason why we’ve been able to increase the number of jobs to record highs. More people are working in New York City today than have ever worked in our city before. The country has gotten back about 40 percent of the jobs from the low back in ’08, and New York City’s gotten back 200 percent of the jobs from the low in ’08. 

“If you want to encourage economic growth in your city, one of the ways to do it is to lower the crime rate, and you can do that if we can get Congress to make sure that we have some sensible laws that are enforced to keep guns out of the hands of people that shouldn’t have it. 

“Now, what you’ll hear from many skeptics and from the gun lobby is changing the laws won’t make a difference. Whatever the law is, they’ll say criminals and the mentally ill will find a way around it. 

“It’s true that no law can stop crime every time, but it is also true – and the data supports this – that smart gun laws really do make a difference. The data shows that requiring background checks for all gun sales – as the President has proposed – states that require it are half as likely to sell guns that are used in crimes in other states. 

“For instance, Colorado closed its gun show loophole, far fewer guns were then sold in Colorado that turned up at crime scenes in other states. The fact is: Background checks work. They keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and they make it harder for criminals to engage in gun trafficking. 

“They don’t work every time. Sometimes the data is flawed; sometimes people find ways to break the law and go around the requirement for a background check. But most times they do work, and we all live in a world where we have to make sure that things work most of the time. And when people say, ‘Well, if it’s not going to work all the time we shouldn’t do it,’ that’s just ridiculous. We have to protect the lives of the people who have elected us. 

“The data also shows that in states that require background checks for every gun sale, fewer women – 38 percent fewer – are shot to death by their boyfriends or husbands. And in those same states that require background checks for every gun sale, the suicide rate is nearly half as high as it is in states that do not require background checks. 

“The gun lobby so callously says someone who wants to kill himself or herself will always find a way to do it. But I don’t believe that. It’s every parent’s nightmare that a child will commit suicide. It’s tough to grow up, we all know that, and we’ve got to do something to make it just harder so that when a child really is starting to lose it, they don’t have an opportunity to do something that you can’t reverse so easily. The more difficult we make it for them, the better off we will all be. 

“The data shows that common sense gun laws make suicide far less likely, and we’ll have, in the next year, 12,000 murders with guns in this country. We’ll have about 16,000 suicides with guns in this country, so we’ve got to do something about this. 

“Background checks for all gun sales will dramatically reduce the illegal trafficking that leads to murder, it will dramatically reduce domestic violence murders, dramatically reduce suicides. It is a law that works – and we’ve got to tell our members of Congress that it is time to make it the law of the land. 

“We all know, based on the data, that some of the other measures the President proposed also work. For example, after the Virginia Tech massacre, Virginia became a national leader in adding mental health records to the background check system. 

“And as a recently released research report from Duke University showed, mental health records of a severely mentally ill person, once it’s added to the background system, he or she is 31 percent less likely to be convicted of a future violent crime. 

“So tell your members of Congress: You know that adding mental health records to the database works, and we need their leadership to compel states to follow Virginia’s lead and do so. We will all benefit from that. 

“There are many people who believe that the 1994 ban on assault weapons was ineffective, and there’s no question that it contained too many loopholes. But let me tell you what we do know about the 1994 ban on the manufacturing of magazines that sold magazines that hold more than ten rounds, it has made a big difference. 

“A study of crime in Virginia shows that between 1998 and 2004, when the prohibition was in effect, guns with high-capacity magazines were 60 percent less likely to be recovered at crime scenes. After the ban expired, between 2005 and 2010, the percentage of guns with high-capacity magazines that were used in crimes nearly doubled. 

“The law limiting high-capacity magazines worked – and we need to convince members of Congress to make it the law of the land once again. 

“In the days and weeks ahead, our bipartisan coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns will be coordinating a major congressional outreach campaign – and I would urge, I plead with you, to get involved. 

“When you talk to members of Congress, you’ll hear from some of them that the gun lobby will hurt them if they support any common sense steps to make your citizens safer, to extend the lives of your citizens. But as more and more people realize, the gun lobby’s ability to influence elections is vastly overblown. 

“I think we saw that last November, in both the presidential race and a number of congressional races. The NRA said their number one priority for 2012 was to defeat Barack Obama. Any of you that want to stay for Monday here in Washington, I think you’ll find that they weren’t terribly successful at doing that. 

“And the reason really is simple: when you do the polling, 80 percent of all gun owners and NRA members support common-sense steps like requiring background checks for all gun sales. 

“We need you – and your constituents – to tell members of Congress that we all want to live. We don’t want our cops shot, we don’t want our kids shot, we don’t want to get shot. We need to tell the members of Congress that they’ve got to stand up for sensible gun laws, and if they do that we will stand up for them. And if we don’t, we will stand up for whoever runs against them because that’s exactly what the NRA is trying to do. The NRA says you don’t support us, we’re going to make you lose your job, we’re going to support your opponent. Well we can do exactly the same thing. 

“I have said that I will support members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who support these common sense proposals, and I will remember those who do not. 

“We need them to hear that from everyone here. It’s a sensible policy. We are the only industrialized country in the world that has this problem. We have more guns than people in the United States. I know the Second Amendment gets you the right to carry a gun, but most people I know don’t even have a gun, so there’s got to be some people with an awful lot of guns. 

“Think about people that advertise armor piercing bullets. Now when’s the last time you saw a deer or an elk with a bulletproof vest? Been a long time I would think. The bottom line is armor piercing bullets are designed to kill cops. That’s the only reason you would ever want to buy one. Think about that, and yet we’re selling lots of them in this country. 

“We need Congress to stop this craziness and explain to them that if they vote for the laws that we need we will vote for them, and if we don’t we’ll vote for somebody that will get us the laws that will keep the people that you and I have been elected to protect. 

“We also need to explain to Congress the suffering we see when people in our communities are affected by gun violence. We have to remind them that every single day, 33 Americans are murdered with guns. 

“If we don’t take action, over the course of the President’s next term, 48,000 Americans will be murdered with guns in this country. That is almost as many people that have been killed in combat during the entire Vietnam War. Unfortunately, their names will not be inscribed on a memorial on the Washington Mall. There will be no national holiday remembering them. 

“On Monday, when we mark what is probably the closest thing we have to a national holiday for gun murder victims, Martin Luther King Day, we’ve got to remember that he was killed too. 

“The murders of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy in the spring of 1968 broke the hearts of this country, and it did spur Washington to act. However, since 1968 to now, there have been more than 400,000 Americans killed with guns. That’s more Americans than were killed in all of World War II. 

“Last month, in ways that we have not seen since 1968, I think the murder of 20 school children and six faculty members broke the hearts and changed the psyche of the people in this country. And now it’s up to us. It’s up to us to make sure that Washington acts. 

“In the days ahead, if you haven’t yet joined our coalition – please do. And if you are a member, we’ll be in contact with you providing all the support we can. But we need every mayor to go to their Congressman and their Congresswoman and their Senators and say: We’ve got a problem in our city and you’re the one that is responsible if that problem continues. 

“We know change in Washington is difficult. Change in Washington is difficult on any issue, and especially on guns. But we also know – as elected officials – government really is responsive. The Congress people and the Senators will do what they think their constituents want. 

“We’ve just got to make sure as the real day in and day out representatives of their constituents – we’re the ones that are on the streets, we’re the ones that see them every day, we’re the ones that are responsible for their safety and their kids’ education and traffic and jobs at a local level – they’ve got to understand from us that this is what our constituents want. We want to make sure that our police officers get home safely every single night. 

“If we can convince members of Congress to walk a mile in our shoes and see that this is a crime problem, not a constitutional problem, we can find common ground, we can make our country a stronger and safer place. 

“So thank you for what you do for this country. Here’s a chance to really make a difference on a national level. Together we have an enormous amount of ability to change the future of this country. Thank you.”

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Contact:                      Marc La Vorgna/John J. McCarthy    (212) 788-2958

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