Police Chiefs and Interfaith Leaders Demand Congressional Action on Gun
By Ed Somers
have heard from our citizens. They want action. Congress must
respond," Conference President and denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb
said as more than fifty mayors, thirty police chiefs and major interfaith
leaders took their message of common-sense gun safety reforms to the
nation's capital on September 9, 1999: Gun Safety Day.
the leadership of Mayor Webb, the bi-partisan coalition called on Congress
to pass gun safety legislation as it returned to work following a
month-long recess, and as the nation's children returned to school.
Safety Day activities included a breakfast meeting, kick-off event with
President Clinton in the White House, rally on the steps of the Capitol
with Congressional supporters, and a lunch meeting with Congressional
Conference also released a survey entitled The Death Toll Since Columbine:
Victims of Gun Violence in Cities which shows the continued death toll
from gun violence in America's cities since the tragic shooting at
Columbine High School on April 20. (see story on page 1)
explaining the need for Gun Safety Day, Mayor Webb quoted the fact that in
1997, 4,223 children under the age of 19 died of gun-related injuries.
"This means that every day in America, nearly 12 young people died of
gunshot wounds," Webb said. (see fact sheet on page 4)
added that the new survey released by the Conference, "makes it clear
that, while Columbine may have been the event that moved a nation to say,
‘this has got to stop,' the fact is, it has not stopped. There have been
highly visible incidents since Columbine: the high school shootings in
Conyers, Georgia; the racist rampage in Illinois and Indiana; the killings
by the day trader in Atlanta; the killings of co-workers in Pelham,
Alabama; and, most recently, the shootings at a Jewish Community Center in
there has been the day-to-day carnage in cities -- the gun deaths that do
not usually appear in the national news," Webb stressed.
is the reason that the Conference of Mayors proclaimed today ‘Gun Safety
Day,' a day designed to focus attention on the importance of keeping guns
away from kids and criminals," Mayor Webb said.
Mayor Webb in planning and leading the day's events were the co-chairs of
the Conference's Gun Violence Task Force, Mayors Clarence Harmon of St.
Louis and Joseph P. Ganim of Bridgeport. The day was actively supported by
the Major Cities Chiefs organization, represented by their Vice Chair
Sheriff Jerry Keller of Clark County Nevada, and endorsed by the
International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Safety Day also had the strong support of a coalition of interfaith
leaders organized by the National Council of Churches at the request of
the Gun Show Loophole
United States Senate has passed, as part of its juvenile justice bill, gun
safety measures that would close existing legal loopholes and offer
greater protections for children including:
Mayor Webb said in the White House event, "while the Senate bill does
not include every gun safety provision the nation's mayors would like to
see enacted, they are a powerful start."
the House version of the juvenile justice bill contains no gun safety
provisions. Mayor Webb said that, "the House must accept these
measures in its conference with the Senate, and Congress must send strong
gun safety legislation to the President right away."
Says Facts Support Legislative Effort
the formal kick-off event for Gun Safety Day, the mayors and police chiefs
joined President Clinton in the White House. Also participating in the
event were Attorney General Janet Reno, Treasury Secretary Lawrence
Summers, and Housing and Urban Develpment Affairs Secretary Andrew Cuomo.
introducing President Clinton, Mayor Webb credited the President for his
leadership on the 1994 crime bill, and for his continued leadership on law
enforcement issues. Webb added that "I think we [the mayors] are the
foot soldiers. We are the ones that keep our cities safe. But we need a
little air support from Congress."
Clinton announced the findings of two new reports by the Federal Bureau of
Investigations and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms showing
the importance of the Brady background checks and cooperation in
enforcement of gun laws.
report on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)
found that in its first seven months of operation, the NICS conducted over
4.7 million background checks and blocked an estimated 100,000 prohibited
gun sales -- bringing the total number of sales stopped to felons,
fugitives, and other prohibited persons to over 400,000 since the Brady
Law took effect.
report also found that while the vast majority of background checks are
completed swiftly -- over 75 percent within 30 seconds, 95 percent within
2 hours, when a check cannot be completed within 24 hours, the individual
being checked is nearly 20 times more likely to be a felon or other
prohibited buyer than the average purchaser.
is why President Clinton, the mayors and police chiefs are opposing the
House effort to reduce the amount of time for conducting background checks
at gun shows.
President Clinton said, "if the FBI had only 24 hours to do a
background check, as some in Congress are proposing, instead of 3 business
days under current law, 20,000 prohibited purchasers -- over 41 percent of
FBI denials -- would have received guns."
violence is still too much a part of America's life," President
Clinton said. This point was echoed by Philadelphia Police Commissioner
John F. Timoney, who also spoke in the White House and said that, "in
Philadelphia, 80 percent of the homicides are committed with guns."
Clinton added that "the rate of accidental shooting deaths for
children under 15 in the United States is nine times higher than the rate
for the other 25 industrialized nations combined."
pushing Congress to take action, Clinton said, "Now that the
lawmakers are back in town, it would be unconscionable if they would leave
again without sending me a balanced, bi-partisan juvenile justice crime
bill that closes the gun show loophole, requires child safety locks, and
bans the importation of large capacity ammunition clips."
Clinton also announced a $15 million HUD initiative to help create
nationwide community gun buy-back programs. Under the initiative, HUD
funds will go to public housing agencies, which will then distribute the
funds to local police departments to conduct buybacks at a suggested price
of $50 each - either in cash or in the form of gift certificates for food,
toys, or other goods. HUD will use funding from its Drug Elimination Grant
Program for the gun buyback initiative.
police department participating in the initiative will be eligible to get
up to $500,000 in HUD funds - enough to purchase up to 10,000 guns in a
city according to HUD.
Program Must be Funded
years ago, it was a bi-partisan delegation of mayors and police chiefs who
came to Washington, DC to help President Clinton move the crime bill
through Congress," Mayor Webb reminded the audience in the White
bill contained the critically important COPS program which has greatly
helped us reduce crime and make our cities safer. As we stand here today
on Gun Safety Day, we also want to emphasize our strong support for the
continuation of the COPS program, and urge Congress to fully fund the
program rather than slashing its funding as currently proposed,"
Mayor Webb added to strong applause.
Safety Message Taken to Capitol Hill
the rally on the steps of the Capitol, the mayors and police chiefs were
joined by a bi- partisan delegation of Senators and Representatives in
calling for immediate action on gun safety.
Minority Leaders Tom Daschle (SD) helped begin the rally and said,
"its time to stop protecting the gun lobby, and start protecting
we have here today on the steps of the Capitol of the United States, the
peoples' house, are mayors, men and women who are talking to parents and
children, and have an important message: put children first," Sen.
Ted Kennedy (MA) told the gathered reporters at the rally.
Frank Lautenberg (NJ) observed, "the mayors and police officers must
be shaking their heads in wonderment... in this peoples' house, not a
hundred a feet away, two innocent police officers lost their lives because
a deranged man got his fathers' gun... all guns have to be protected from
helping to conclude the remarks at the rally, Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke
said, "just as the guns and the bullets and their victims don't
reflect partisan differences, gun safety and proponents of gun safety
don't reflect partisan differences."
the rally, the mayors and police chiefs held a lunch meeting with members
of the Congressional leadership including House Minority Leader Richard A.
Gephardt. Mayor Webb used the opportunity to specifically thank Rep. Rosa
DeLauro (CT), who helped the Conference organize the Capitol Hill
activities for Gun Safety Day.
Community Prays for Action
leaders from the interfaith community heeded Mayor Webb's call to join
with the nation's mayors and police chiefs in support of Gun Safety Day.
Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, General Secretary of the National Council of
Churches, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, Executive Director of The Interfaith
Alliance, Rabbi David Saperstein, Executive Director of the Reform Action
Center of Reform Judaism and Imam Ghayth Kashif of Masjid As-Shura joined
together to call upon members of Congress to close loopholes in current
gun laws and to heed the concerns of people of faith from around the
nation seeking an end to the rampant and senseless violence.
core values that we share in our different faiths bring us here today to
stand with and affirm the message of our mayor's and police chiefs on Gun
Safety Day... We call upon our members of Congress to demonstrate courage
and faith by passing effective gun control laws," said Rev. C. Welton
of faith all across this land are grateful to all public officials willing
to take a stand against violence and against weapons that turn violence
into murder. Each of the Abrahamic faith traditions understand violence to
be a failure of the human spirit, a denial of the ethic of love and life
to which we are called," said Dr. Joan Brown Campbell.
Rosh Hashanah was set to begin at sundown, Rabbi Saperstein spoke of the
hope for change, "in Jewish life, the turning of the year is a time
of looking forward... a time when we believe that that which was not
possible before is possible in the coming year. And so it is that I stand
here today with the fervent hope and a renewed belief that stronger gun
control legislation - legislation that has heretofore been stonewalled,
filibustered, pushed back, amended, weakened, denied, so many times before
- can be passed."
Interfaith Alliance will be calling on its 80,000 members and 10,000
cyber-activists to contact members of Congress to pass tough gun safety