Gun violence is plaguing our nation, and no community is exempt, including mine. As mayor, I presided over one of Binghamton, N.Y.'s darkest days when a mentally ill man opened fire at the American Civic Association, an education center for recent immigrants. Using two automatic handguns and 30-round magazines, he discharged a hundred bullets within a minute, slaying 13 people before ending his own life when police arrived on the scene.
No community can ever heal completely from such a tragedy. We lost teachers and students, lifelong residents and new arrivals, friends and family members. We keep them in our hearts everyday, but we can't bring them back.
Our pain redoubles every time we see another shooting, whether in Tucson or Aurora or Newtown -- or even the street corner or in the home. And what makes it even worse is that we could stop this senseless carnage very easily.
We could protect our children and broader communities by passing commonsense laws on which we all should be able to agree. As one of 750 members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, I am calling on Congress and President Obama to pass three simple measures:
First, require criminal background checks for all gun sales. This is the only systematic way to prevent dangerous people from buying firearms. Amazingly, federal law only requires background checks for gun sales at licensed dealers. That means more than six million guns are sold each year in the U.S. by unlicensed "private sellers," including online and at gun shows. In effect, between 40% and 50% of gun sales may take place with no background check for the buyer.
Second, ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. These have no place at all on our streets. Their exclusive purpose is to kill large numbers of people quickly, and they have no other use in civilian hands. Today, even people with criminal records or with serious mental illness can and do buy assault weapons from unlicensed private sellers who don't conduct background checks.
Third, make gun trafficking a federal crime. Every year, illegal trafficking channels put tens of thousands of guns in the hands of criminals. But there is no clear and effective statute that makes gun trafficking a federal crime. Prosecutors who want to combat traffickers have no choice but to rely on a weak law that prohibits "engaging in the business of selling guns without a federal license," which carries the same punishment as trafficking chicken or livestock.
The status quo is beyond absurd. Failure to enact change is beyond irresponsible. Passing these commonsense laws is long overdue, and that's why our federal leaders must act now.
The gun lobby bears great responsibility for enabling American's rampant gun violence, but we can make sure the NRA and its affiliates don't obstruct or water down the measures our country needs. All citizens can and should contact their federal representatives to ensure they support these laws. That's especially true for gun owners, including NRA members, and they should push the NRA in the right direction, too. This effort may be difficult, but it's not impossible, and we're already making headway.
In this spirit, I'm joining more than 60 of my fellow mayors at Mayors Against Illegal Guns to advocate our three-piece legislative agenda on January 16 in Washington. I'm very pleased that our own representative in the House, Richard Hanna, already has pledged to consider our commonsense reforms very seriously. This is encouraging given that the NRA has endorsed him with an "A" grade. The same is true in other districts, too, and momentum is on our side.
Now we need Mr. Hanna, his congressional colleagues and President Obama to demonstrate full leadership on this issue. We need a plan that is going to avert massacres that take away our loved ones forever. We need action that will allow our children to grow up and take their place as community leaders. We need the commonsense laws that will allow us to fulfill our promise as a nation.