NEW YORK—Every day in America, 34 lives are ended by gunfire. That statistic came to life at City Hall on Monday, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg had assembled the families of 34 such victims of gunfire—including family members of those who died in the Columbine High School shooting of 1999, the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007, and the Tuscon, Ariz., shooting earlier this months.
Martin Luther King III, who was only 10 years old when his father was assassinated in 1968, was also among the ranks of those left behind.
“Dr. King spoke of the 'fierce urgency of now.' You see the fierce urgency of now in these faces,” said Mayor Bloomberg, gesturing to the 34 families that filled the City Hall rotunda staircase behind him.
“You see the fierce urgency of now everywhere, except in Washington,” he concluded.
The mayor outlined his demands on the federal government for gun law reform and enforcement. Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, head a bipartisan coalition of 550 mayors formed in 2006. The Mayors Against Illegal Guns calls for a crackdown on gun violence following the murder of six people in Tuscon earlier this month by gunman Jared Loughner.
Aside from legislation, King pointed out it is our culture of violence that must be changed.
“We must create a culture of nonviolence,” he said. The majority of cartoons, movies, and video games display violence, said King.
“Until we change what we consume—not censorship, but self-censorship—then we’re not going to address this issue,” declared the son of the civil rights hero who maintained a strong stance of nonviolence throughout his entire 39 years.
A LONG HISTORY OF INEFFECTIVE MEASURES
High-profile tragedies have spurred federal legislation in the past. After Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated in 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted the first federal laws to limit access to guns. In theory, felons, drug abusers, and the mentally ill were to be denied ownership of firearms.
It wasn't until 1993, however, that a system was created to conduct instant background checks: the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The Columbine High School shooters, who killed 13 people in 1999, were still able to acquire their weapons at a gun show without a background check. Collectors or people who only occasionally sell guns are still not required to do checks; Bloomberg is calling for the closing of the “gun show loophole.”
In 2007, Seung Hui Cho gunned down 32 people at Virginia Tech. Records reporting his mental problems were not in the system. Though NICS was in place, no pressure was placed on states or federal agencies to submit their records. After this tragedy, the NICS Improvement Amendments Act was passed to provide $375 million in funding to states that would facilitate this process.
Only 5 percent of the authorized $375 million was actually doled out. This minimal contribution still had an effect, noted Bloomberg. From 2006 to today, the number of people in the NICS's Mental Defective File has grown from 300,000 to 1.1 million. Only 2,000 people, however, are listed as drug abusers. States that don't submit their records are liable to lose only $15 million in federal funding as a penalty—a figure way too low to incite action said Bloomberg, who pointed out that 10 states have still not submitted any records and 18 states have submitted less than 100 records.
“And if you include missing felony convictions, domestic violence reports, and drug abuse histories, we know that there are millions of records missing from this database,” said the mayor. “They [Congress] pass a bill, but then don’t fund it so that you can’t enforce it. Or, they pass a bill that has glaring exceptions so that they can say to both sides, ‘you see I did something,’ or ‘you see I made it so that nothing is going to happen.’”
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is resistant to even the most minimal restrictions, declared Bloomberg. He says the association has avoided all dialogue with the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition.
“This is not about the Second Amendment, this is not about the right to bear arms and hunt and to have target practice as a sport; this is about plain, common-sense enforcement of laws that are already on the books,” said Bloomberg.
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