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This month, President Obama, and more recently, Senator Diane Feinstein of California, began the difficult debate about gun control. Let me be frank: I am a former gun owner, and a supporter of the rights we are granted as American citizens under the Second Amendment. I am also strongly in support of the plan set in motion by President Obama and Senator Feinstein.
I am a proud and active member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national advocacy organization co-chaired by Mayors Bloomberg of New York and Menino of Boston. Joining my colleagues in seeking saner policies around firearm sales and ownership is most definitely a political act, and an act of conscience. Like many other gun owners past and present, I see no contradiction between endorsing the public’s access to firearms and a deep, personal conviction that reform is needed in the area of gun regulation.
As I look back on the violence of 2012, from the streets of Chicago, to a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, to the devastation of Newtown, Connecticut, and as I confront the staggering statistic that 30,000 Americans die each year due to gun violence, I have to applaud President Obama for starting the national conversation that will, I hope, begin to provide some relief.
At a minimum, his proposal would require criminal background checks for all gun buyers. The 23-step plan would also add more counselors and resource officers to schools and create better access to mental health services. I commend the President for recognizing the role mental health resources play in this issue, and I hope this is just the start of a conversation that will help us better understand how to prevent a lack of mental health care from potentially leading to tragic events.
But perhaps most important, the plan boldly calls for the reintroduction and the strengthening of the prohibition on assault weapons, a ban that expired in 1994 and that we wrongly failed to renew. The evidence from Australia makes the choice clear.
Following a mass shooting in Tasmania in 1996, the Australian government enacted sweeping gun control measures, which included massive regulation around semi-automatic weapons. In the decade prior to the reform, Australia saw 11 mass shootings. There has not been a single incident since. Meanwhile, in the 13 years since that bipartisan legislation passed, Australia has seen a 59 percent drop in all gun-related homicides between 1995 and 2006, with a 65 percent reduction in suicides. Robberies involving guns are down. Home invasion rates are steady. And while these are compelling numbers from numerous studies, it’s important to remember that they are also lives.
At MAIG, we are working to keep guns off our streets, and the President’s proposal goes to the core of our mission: “As mayors, our highest responsibility is to enforce the law and to protect the people we serve. The issue of illegal guns is not conservative or liberal; it is an issue of law and order, and life or death.”
But the NRA leadership continues to maintain that any proposal to ban or regulate the sale of firearms disregards the Second Amendment. We know that most gun owners, and even most NRA members, do not share those extreme views. Nor do I. The President’s proposal is not an issue of Second Amendment rights. From free speech to property ownership, from privacy to the practice of religion, no right is completely unrestricted: As a democratically governed civil society, our nation has always put reasonable limits on our constitutional rights when to do so is in the public interest. In this case, the President’s recommendations are a modest, mainstream response to a genuine problem.
Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg said it best, “No piece of legislation is perfect and no piece of legislation is 100 percent effective. Think of it like a speeding limit. You may every once in a while violate the speeding limit, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have speeding limits, they protect people’s lives.”
I look forward to the debate on this issue, and am hopeful that we can arrive at a shared national approach that will help us decrease the incidence of gun violence in this country. This week, I will join Mayor Menino and other local officials and members of MAIG in expressing our official support for President Obama, and I will continue to advocate for the urgent reform of our national firearms policies.
At the end of the day, the message is simple: What happened in Aurora, Chicago, and Newtown last year could happen anywhere. It’s our job now to make sure it can’t.