Mayors’ coalition promotes new gun laws
By Elizabeth Sheeran
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone has added his voice to the many public figures calling for a strong national gun control policy in the wake of a recent spate of tragedies involving firearms. And he’s teaming up with other mayors to do it.
Curtatone was among 16 Massachusetts mayors who gathered last week at the invitation of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino as part of a national coalition of mayors pushing for new federal gun laws. Mayors Against Illegal Guns wants three specific changes: to require a background check for every gun buyer, to limit the availability of military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and to make gun trafficking a federal crime.
“As mayors, we have a responsibility to our residents to do all we can to make our neighborhoods safer,” said Mayor Menino, who co-founded the bi-partisan coalition in 2007 with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
More than 830 American mayors signed the coalition’s recent letter to Congressional leaders demanding swift action on the Fix Gun Checks bill, to require criminal background checks for every gun sale. That includes millions of gun sales – over 40 percent of the total – that don’t require background checks today, including sales made online, at gun shows, or from private sellers.
At the meeting last week, Menino called on the mayors and their constituents to step up pressure on Congress nationwide. “Call your aunt in Florida; call your college roommate in Texas; call your old neighbor who moved to Vermont. Tell them we need them to stand with us and demand a plan from their members of Congress,” said Mayor Menino.
According to the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity, the coalition spent $100,000 on a television ad that aired in Washington D.C. during Sunday’s Super Bowl game, promoting universal background checks as part of its “Demand-A-Plan” campaign.
Mayor Curtatone, a member of the coalition since the start, said closing loopholes on gun sales and requiring background checks would be a major step in promoting a climate of what he calls “sensible and responsible gun ownership,” which he said should also take into account issues related to mental illness and substance abuse.
“You and I can go down to the South to a gun show and we can purchase whatever weapons we want without a background check, and walk out of there. That has resulted in the proliferation of all types of weapons,” said Mayor Curtatone, recalling the tragedies in Newtown and elsewhere, as well as a recent drive-by shooting in Somerville. “This issue affects not just urban communities but suburban and rural, and we’re seeing acts of violence across this country.”
The mayor said he strongly disagrees with the National Rifle Association and others who have proposed arming more citizens and putting armed guards in schools. “I think that’s the most asinine suggestion that I have ever heard, to put more weapons out in the community and in our schools,” said Mayor Curtatone. “That’s just absurd. It’s absurd and it’s offensive. We need to get the guns off the streets, bottom line. And we need to promote responsible gun ownership.”
Somerville Police Chief Thomas Pasquarello said he can count on one hand the number of actual shooting victims in the city in the past two years. But that doesn’t tell the whole story of the potential threat from firearms. Since 2010, at least 14 gunshot noise calls have led to evidence that shots were indeed fired. Pasquarello said local police take a proactive approach, working with the narcotics department to track who’s using guns and where they are, and even routine traffic stops have netted as many as eight illegal weapons in one car.
He said it can be tough to police illegal firearms at the local level when criminals can easily cross state lines, for instance to Vermont where it’s easier to buy weapons, and he’d like see consistency at least among the New England states. He acknowledged that criminals will always look for ways to get around the law, but he supports “any tool that will require identification, more of a background look at mental health.” Said Pasquarello, “Each and every one of these is an important tool, not just for law enforcement, but for the community.”
Mayor Curtatone said the changes in gun laws proposed by the mayors’ coalition would promote responsible gun ownership without infringing on the right to bear arms as spelled out in the Second Amendment. “The authors of the Constitution and the founders of this country never envisioned fully automatic weapons or high capacity magazines proliferating in our communities,” he said. “I see no contradiction, being a former gun owner supporting the Second Amendment, with a deep personal conviction that we need strong and broad reform.”
“The proliferation of handguns and semi-automatic weapons is impacting our overall health, safety and the quality of life,” said Mayor Curtatone. “It needs to stop.”