When was the last time you saw public officials representing Americans of all backgrounds having a reasonable discussion on how to prevent gun violence?
For the mayors addressing a standing-room only crowd of municipal officials visiting Washington, D.C., for NLC’s Congressional City Conference this morning, the impact of gun-related deaths and injuries is personal, immediate, and demanding of a pragmatic and sensible response.
The speakers discussed the ease with which guns end up in the wrong hands and the tragic consequences for their cities: Moscow, Idaho (population 24,000), where a courthouse and church became the site of a sniper shooting in 2007; Aurora, Colo. (population 335,000), where 12 people were murdered at a movie theater last July; and Philadelphia, where a disproportionate number of the more than 300 homicides that take place each year involve African-American male victims and perpetrators. They also described how their experiences on the front lines of the nation’s gun violence epidemic has motivated them and their colleagues to consider practical solutions and take action.
Mayor Nancy Chaney shared how the Moscow City Council struggled to reach consensus on proposed state regulations and ultimately provided unanimous support for a set of recommendations made by local law enforcement. Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan discussed how the theater shooting prompted local leaders to begin asking questions, and called for a less polarized debate on the issue of gun violence. He emphasized the need to fund mental health services, while at the same time agreeing that reasonable restrictions such as universal background checks for gun purchases make sense. Mayor Michael Nutter described how banning high-capacity magazines matters for Philadelphians: while the number of shootings in the city has declined, the mortality rate has increased, mainly because more bullets are being fired. “My job is to make sure people are safe,” said Nutter, who is leading a national initiative to reduce violent deaths of African-American men and boys through Cities United.
A fourth speaker, Brina Milikowski, representing Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the New York City mayor’s office, explained why sensible regulations would make communities safer. States that have closed loopholes enabling people to circumvent federally-required background checks by purchasing guns from private sellers and that have enacted other strong gun laws have much lower rates of shooting deaths.
The human toll of firearm deaths was echoed throughout the panel discussion: a woman in Wisconsin whose murder by her husband after obtaining a restraining order could have been prevented by a more effective background check system; two police officers killed in San Jose, Calif., when Councilmember Pete Constant, the session moderator, first joined the city’s police force; a university student shot by her professor. “We have to personalize this,” said Mayor Chaney. “This really is about individuals and families.”