Following the tragedy that occurred this month when a 20-year-old man shot and killed 26 people, including 20 children, at a school in Newtown, Conn., his mother and himself, mayors from all over the country have signed a letter urging President Barack Obama and Congress to pass stricter gun control legislation.
Livingston Mayor Stephen Santola, on behalf of the Livingston Township Council, was one of the 750 mayors nationwide to sign the letter.
Referring to themselves as the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the bipartisan coalition is trying to urge the President to “put forward an agenda that is rooted in common sense and that will make it harder for dangerous people to possess guns, and easier for police and prosecutors to crack down on them.“
"As a father and as a resident, I am 100% in favor of (the coalition)," said Santola. "I don't think anybody needs an assault rifle, I don't think anybody needs a magazine clip that holds more than 10 bullets and shoots 30 rounds a second. I think those types of weapons should only be in the hands of law enforcement officals and peacekeepers, and even then in a very regulated matter."
Among the priorities highlighted in the letter were:
- Require every gun buyer to pass a criminal background check: Background checks are the only systematic way to stop felons, domestic abusers and other dangerous people from buying firearms. These checks are instantaneous and highly effective, but criminals and other prohibited purchasers avoid these checks by buying firearms, including online and at gun shows, from unlicensed “private sellers” who are not required by federal law to conduct the checks. The Fix Gun Checks Act (H.R.1781 / S.436) would close this enormous gap in our laws by requiring a criminal background check for every gun sale.
- Get high capacity rifles and ammunition magazines off our streets: Military-style weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines have no appropriate civilian or sporting function. They are designed to kill large numbers of people quickly as well as law enforcement officers. The time has come to review the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and draft a new law that is clear and enforceable and will take these weapons out of our communities.
- Make gun trafficking a federal crime: Today, there is no clear and effective statute making gun trafficking a crime. Prosecutors are instead forced to rely on a weak law prohibiting engaging in the business of selling guns without a federal license, which carries the same punishment as trafficking chicken or livestock. Mayors Against Illegal Guns supports proposals to empower law enforcement to investigate and prosecute straw purchasers, gun traffickers, and their entire criminal networks.
Santola was joined by other North Jersey mayors including Robert Parisi (West Orange), Victor DeLuca (Maplewood), Cory Booker (Newark), Robert Bowser (East Orange), Maria DiGiovanni (Hackettstown), Dawn Zimmer (Hoboken), William Laforet (Mahwah), James Barberio (Parsippany-Troy Hills) and Sandy Moscaritolo (River Edge).
Santola said that he feels "significantly increasing the penalty for gun trafficking" was one of the top priorities that Obama should focus on. He said he hoped reform could help get the "people making a living off of transporting guns" off the streets.
The coalition has also requested Obama and Congress work together to immediately appoint a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), possibly even a recess appointment. The ATF, which has lacked a director for more than six years, is charged with enforcing federal gun laws.
"In 2011, for the first time in over a decade, more police officers were shot to death in the line of duty than were killed in automobile accidents," the mayors stated in the letter. "The need for leadership at the ATF has never been more urgent."
In addition, the mayors asked that the Justice Department be urged to prosecute prohibited purchasers, anyone who fails a background check, who attempt to buy firearms, ammunition or high-capacity magazines; as well as requiring federal agencies to submit mental health, substance abuse and other records that prohibit a person from owning a gun to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
"With all the carnage from gun violence in our country, it's still almost impossible to believe that a mass shooting in a kindergarten class could happen," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also serves as co-chair of MAIG, said in a statement. "We heard after Columbine that it was too soon to talk about gun laws. We heard it after Virginia Tech. After Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek. And now we are hearing it again. For every day we wait, 34 more people are murdered with guns. President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for 'meaningful action' is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership - not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today."