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Baldwin, Whitehall Mayors Sign Gun Control Letter to Obama

Sandy Bennett, James Nowalk join Mayors Against Illegal Guns movement.

The mayors of Baldwin and Whitehall boroughs have added their signatures to a gun control letter written to U.S. President Barack Obama.

The letter is part of a Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) movement co-chaired by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and is dated for Dec. 19, five days after a , that caused the shooting deaths of 26 people, including 20 children.

Here is the letter that Baldwin Mayor Alexander R. Bennett Jr. and Whitehall Mayor James F. Nowalk have added their names to:

Dear President Obama,

On Friday, December 14th the entire nation watched as parents stood outside the Sandy Hook Elementary School and waited, desperately hoping to be reunited with their children. That moment will never end for the families of the 20 children and six adults who were murdered that day at the school.

As mayors, we are charged with keeping our communities safe. But too many of us have sat with mothers and fathers of children killed with guns. Twenty-four children enrolled in public schools in your hometown of Chicago were shot to death just last year.

At the moving memorial service on Sunday evening, you said: "If there is even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that has visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that – then surely we have an obligation to try."

Our bipartisan coalition of more than 750 mayors has joined forces with over 700,000 Americans and more than 100 survivors of deadly shootings, including the mass shootings you mentioned in your remarks. Together, we urge you 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. That agenda should:

  • 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. Since its inception, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has blocked firearms purchases at licensed dealerships by millions of individuals who are barred by federal law from owning them. 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. Millions of gun sales — estimated at more than 40 percent of the U.S. annual total — are conducted through private sellers. 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. They are also disproportionately used to kill law enforcement officers; approximately one out of five law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty is killed with assault weapons. 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. As a result, according to the Justice Department's Inspector General, U.S. Attorneys decline to prosecute 25 percent of those cases while declining only 9 percent of drug conspiracy cases. Mayors Against Illegal Guns supports proposals to empower law enforcement to investigate and prosecute straw purchasers, gun traffickers, and their entire criminal networks.

Those ideas require action by Congress, but there (are) steps you and your Administration could and should take immediately to curb gun violence:

  • Appoint an ATF director: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), the federal agency responsible for enforcing our gun laws, has gone without a confirmed director for more than six years. During that time, criminals and those with serious mental illness have been able to take advantage of insufficient enforcement of existing federal gun laws, and an estimated 72,000 Americans have been murdered with guns. 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 need for leadership at the ATF has never been more urgent. The time has come for you to make a recess appointment to fill the vacancy at the top of the ATF.
  • Prosecute prohibited purchasers who attempt to buy firearms, ammunition or high-capacity magazines: The Justice Department should vigorously prosecute felons and other prohibited purchasers who fail gun background checks. In 2009, the Federal Bureau of Investigation referred more than 71,000 such cases to ATF, but U.S. Attorneys ultimately prosecuted only 77 of them. Prosecuting these offenders is a goal broadly supported by our coalition and the National Rifle Association. The Department should also develop a mechanism for sharing NICS denial information with local and state law enforcement officials by sending them active alerts; or, at a minimum, posting the information at the National Criminal Information Center so state and local law enforcement officials can access it during investigations.
  • Require federal agencies to report records to NICS: The NICS Improvement Act of 2007 requires federal agencies to submit mental health, substance abuse and other records that prohibit a person from owning a gun to NICS. However, few agencies comply. In October 2011, the FBI provided data to MAIG on reporting by 60 federal agencies. Of those 60 agencies, 52 had given zero mental health records to NICS. Although total federal agency reporting of mental health records increased by ten percent between March and October 2011, to 143,579, the vast majority of those records had been submitted by one agency, the Department of Veterans Affairs. Even fewer federal agencies are reporting drug abusers. Only three agencies — the FBI, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), the probation and parole services agency for the District of Columbia — have submitted any substance abuse records, and the vast majority of federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, have not submitted a single substance abuse record. The president should issue an executive order requiring all federal agency heads to certify twice annually, in writing, to the U.S. Attorney General that their agency has submitted all relevant records to NICS.
  • Repeal remaining Tiahrt restrictions:  While Mayors Against Illegal Guns and our law enforcement allies have made progress in relaxing the "Tiahrt restrictions," which are riders to the federal budget that restrict access to federal gun data, some still remain. These remaining restrictions keep the public, particularly researchers and elected officials, in the dark about gun traffickers – specifically, who they are and how they operate. It also requires the FBI to destroy records of approved NICS background checks within 24 hours. That makes it harder to detect law-breaking dealers who fake their records, or to identify straw buyers who undergo the checks on behalf of someone who couldn't pass. The Tiahrt Amendments also say ATF can't require dealers to inspect their inventory, which could reduce the tens of thousands of guns that go missing or are stolen each year. Finally, the police and other law enforcement agencies that get trace data can't use it in license revocation proceedings or in civil litigation.  The administration should repeal these restrictions in its next budget.

In the past few days, the American people came together in a national outpouring of grief and sympathy for the families of victims slain in the mass shooting in Newtown. We share in that grief. But our constituents are also outraged and looking for leadership from the White House. We look forward to working with you to find a solution to gun violence in our country.

Sincerely,

This coalition of U.S. mayors

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Billee December 21, 2012 at 11:25 AM
Thank you for doing what you can... when you can on earth. I put the rest in Gods hands who resides in Heaven!
20 Year Resident of Baldwin/Whitehall December 21, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Outstanding. It's a great bi-partisan effort that can make an immediate difference.
BA December 21, 2012 at 01:57 PM
What is the difference between having one 20 round or 4 five round clips
Joseph M. Karcher December 21, 2012 at 01:58 PM
I agree and commend the mayors for taking action. Also agree with Billee about put the rest in Gods hands. Also refer to Darrell Scott's (father of Rachel Scott, victim at Columbine) testomony before Congress. It is about time if not to late to let God and Pedge of Allegence back into the schools.
BA December 21, 2012 at 02:03 PM
I am glad we are taking by-partisan action but I still believe what Ronald Reagan said “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s is broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American perception that each individual is accountable for his or her actions”
joe pampena December 21, 2012 at 03:30 PM
My daughter was victem of fomestic violence nov 4 2012 by her husband,if he didn't have guns ther would not have been a murder,dad
Chris December 21, 2012 at 04:44 PM
You don't need new laws...Why not force the Judicial system into enforcing the laws that we already have! Harsher sentencing on criminals who use guns in the crime they are committing!! If you value your freedom, please spread this antigun-control message to all of your friends. SWITZERLAND ISSUES EVERY HOUSEHOLD A GUN! SWITZERLAND’S GOVERNMENT TRAINS EVERY ADULT THEY ISSUE A RIFLE. SWITZERLAND HAS THE LOWEST GUN RELATED CRIME RATE OF ANY CIVILIZED COUNTRY IN THE WORLD!!! Commit a crime in Switzerland and you are treated like the criminal you are!
BA December 21, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Joe, my sympathy to you. We all have to remember the guns dont kill people. People kill people. Should we ban knifes when they are used?
old man December 21, 2012 at 08:25 PM
It is definately time to permanently ban both assault rifles and high capacity magazines. They serve no purpose for civilian use, they are designed for one thing to kill. Laws need to be passed that if you use a firearm in the commission of a crime, the sentence needs to be severe, with no chance of parole until sentence is completed. I read an article where the last assault weapon ban was left expire because it was an election year, poor excuse. The time has come to ban weapons that serve no purpose.
Billee December 21, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Private citizens would only need an arsenal for use in World War lll . As said above... its in Gods hands. I believe in my second amendment right however there is a difference between self defense and excessive force. As with a birth-date we all have an expiration date. The more evil... (violence) can eliminate until such date is carried out the better for all involved. The intentions for our lives (LIFE) was suppose to be peaceful...kind and gentle and filled with beauty and the sad distressful reality is that it never was... thus our Second Amendment Rights! It's our faults not Gods. Gun CONTROL not ELIMINATION of our Second Amendment Rights... is the lesser of the two evils.
CW December 21, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Bob, We also all have to remember that 20 innocent angels were riddled with bullets and lay dead on a cold hard floor, while their grieving parents wanted nothing more than to hold their babies one last time. I want to SCREAM when I see and hear that "guns don't kill people. It is extremely insensitive and disrespectful to those who lost their loved ones to these tragedies. The fact is that these sickkos ALL used guns in these massacres, not knives. I am not against guns, while having many hunting guns, I chose, as a responsible parent to two boys to remove them (and gun safe) from home, once my husband passed. I wanted No chance of an accident, I am too afraid. I chose to control my situation, as so does (I hope) "every" gun loving person. Joe Pampena, I am so sorry for your loss of your child. Having you to see such a rude stupid response to your heartfelt post brought tears to my eyes.
Watcher December 21, 2012 at 10:58 PM
I'm sorry to inform all of you people that its too late, this is the society we live in. Gun control is not the answer, its to late for that, there are millions out there. What needs to be done is to enforce the laws that we do have. What are you going to do if they do enact laws prohibiting assault weapons and two weeks later another incident happens? What law do you enact then? What do you do to solve the problem? The fact of the matter is that the way society is going and the direction this country is going, you are going to need weapons to protect yourself.
Mugwump December 21, 2012 at 11:42 PM
It's a very good "feel good" move but in reality it doesn't even register. Everyone blames the guns. My question is why, as in the case last week did the mother, knowing how disturbed he son was didn't do anything to prevent him from gaining access. Were the guns legal? If they were then the above letter again is a "feel good" letter. People need to start taking responsibility I know that is very un-american but we are the root cause of the problem.
Margaret French December 22, 2012 at 05:34 AM
There is a town in Georgia that it is mandatory that every household within city limits has a gun, loaded and ready. They have a VERY low crime rate. I think the spelling is Kennesaw. Read it on Wikipedia.
Margaret French December 22, 2012 at 05:40 AM
But it is true CW... guns don't kill people, people kill people. My gun has been setting here loaded and ready for at least 20 years and it hasn't killed anybody yet. It might set there another 20 not killing anyone. It is sicko PEOPLE that kill.
CW December 22, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Hi Margaret, I think your missing my point. Let me ask you, If you would have one of these parents who lost their child in this massacre standing in front of you (or Mr Pampena, who posted here) - Would you rather offer your condolences and in the same breath remind them that "guns don't kill people" Or would you want to wrap your arms around them showng compassion to ease their pain? What do you think these grieving people would want to hear? Its a cold heartless phrase to say to someone who is hurting and trying to cope with loss. We need to think first, as to how we choose our words to comfort someone.
Baldwin HS Grad December 22, 2012 at 04:43 PM
I like the Mayors of Baldwin and Whitehall, but this is plain dumb. The thought that limiting gun ownership will protect anyone is not well thought out. How would making my firearms illegal help keep a criminal from using an illegal one? Mine are safe, secure and ready for the criminal, so take them off me and give the criminal the upper hand? Guns have had 13 round magazines since 1935. Hi capacity is a term from the media. I can change a magazine in 2 seconds. 10, 20, 30 round magazines are all standard. Only the media would tell you its hi capacity and therefore more dangerous. Wouldn't it be something if there wasnt an object to blame here? Not the gun, not the school, not anybody but the evil person who committed the act. Time for society to quit jumping to conclusions and trying to take away the freedoms I served this country for to protect. This was a person who did something wrong, not an object. Ban cell phones if you mayors got nothing to do. They are causing more problems in Baldwin and Whitehall than guns are. Or pick go pick up a gun, and stand watch, like I did, to protect our freedoms. Not stand in a room and talk about removing them.
MJ December 22, 2012 at 09:06 PM
A response like that is taking the situation lightly and trying to change what it is. Guns become everyday items that are not respected for what they should be. Guns should be limited and/or banned. What my father, Joe, was stating is that while there man have been one man that pulled the trigger that night, if the gun wasn't there my sister would still be alive. That is the case in a lot of murders.
Karen Harkins December 23, 2012 at 01:42 AM
To BHS Grad: Thank you for fighting/protecting for our freedom to bear arms!!!!
bd December 23, 2012 at 02:15 PM
BHS Grad - you are correct. These 2 mayors are very much left of center politically so this comes as no surprise.
Chris December 24, 2012 at 01:22 PM
Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Uganda established gun control in 1970. From 1971 to 1979, 300,000 Christians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated. Cambodia established gun control in 1956. From 1975 to 1977, one million educated people, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated. Defenseless people rounded up and exterminated in the 20th Century because of gun control: 56 million. You won’t see this data on the US evening news, or hear politicians disseminating this information. Guns in the hands of honest citizens save lives and property and, yes, gun-control laws adversely affect only the law-abiding citizens. PUNISH THE CRIMINAL not the law abiding citizen...
Chris December 24, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Precautionary measures. We need armed guards in our schools,Democraps complain about the cost... how much has been spent on "the war on drugs"? The judicial system does not punish criminals who disregard gun laws. In a school zone why not double the maximum sentence! Did the mother have her guns in a safe, or trigger locks on them? She had a child with a mental disability, this alone would warrant her to take MORE precautionary measures.

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