As I See It
We Must Lead the Fight Against Illegal Guns
By Christian Bollwage
On June 7, 2009, a drive-by shooting in Trenton claimed the life of an innocent 13-year-old bystander. The gun used to kill the teenager, along with approximately 50 other weapons including a semi-automatic AK-47, were smuggled into New Jersey. This trafficking ring originated in Virginia, and its leader was sentenced to 12 years in prison this past May.
Unfortunately this was not the first time guns purchased in Virginia were used to commit crimes here in New Jersey—and it was not the last. Virginia has become a destination for gun traffickers due to its weak gun laws. For example, the state does not require background checks for the private gun sales that take place over the internet, at guns shows or through classified ads. This creates a large marketplace for illegal guns that traffickers and other criminals are free to exploit.
States like New Jersey suffer the most. Seventy-five percent of guns recovered in crimes here originate from outside the state. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, in 2010 Virginia supplied 171 New Jersey crime guns; another 124 came all the way from Florida. Law enforcement officials refer to I-95 as the “Iron Pipeline” because of these alarming statistics.
In light of this problem, more than 600 mayors have joined together in a bipartisan, national coalition called Mayors Against Illegal Guns. This organization is committed to safeguarding lives by keeping guns out of criminal hands, while respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.
The coalition promotes common sense efforts to stop illegal guns, including legislative efforts that will close gaps in the nation’s gun background check system. The Fix Gun Checks Act, which has already garnered 80 co-sponsors in the U.S. House, would increase the reporting of relevant criminal and mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
NICS alerts licensed gun dealers and government agencies when an individual is barred by federal law from possessing a weapon. It has stopped more than one million illegal gun purchases and permit applications, including at least 10,000 in New Jersey, over the past 12 years. But millions of records are missing from the system, allowing dangerous individuals to slip through the cracks. Moreover, only licensed gun sales are subject to NICS checks in many states. The Fix Gun Checks Act would require these checks for all gun sales, including the private sales that currently go unregulated.
In November, when the U.S. Senate convened a hearing on the Fix Gun Checks Act, coalition representatives delivered 400,000 petitions in support of the bill. They were joined by survivors and victims of gun violence including Michael Pohle, a Flemington resident who lost his son in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. Understanding the need for this vital legislation, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez lent his leadership and support by signing on as a co-sponsor of the Fix Gun Checks Act.
Even as the coalition pushes to close legal loopholes and strengthen enforcement, there are members of the U.S. Congress who seem intent on further weakening gun laws throughout our nation. In November, the U.S. House passed a bill, H.R. 822, which would force New Jersey to honor concealed carry gun permits from anywhere in the country—even states with weaker regulations and less oversight. H.R. 822 would increase the number of hidden and loaded guns on the streets and would make it extremely difficult for police officers to distinguish between legal and illegal guns.
Unfortunately, six members of the state’s congressional delegation supported H.R. 822. New Jersey Representatives Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2), Jon Runyan (NJ-3), Chris Smith (NJ-4), Scott Garrett (NJ-5), Leonard Lance (NJ-7), and Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) voted to gut New Jersey’s robust gun permitting framework. In the weeks that followed, these Congressmen were heavily criticized in editorials by the Star-Ledger, the Bergen Record, and the Press of Atlantic City. In contrast, Governor Christie remains opposed to forced concealed carry reciprocity.
Senator Frank Lautenberg, a decades-long leader in the fight against gun violence, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to veto this dangerous bill should it ever pass the Senate. A similar proposal was narrowly defeated in the Senate two years ago thanks to strong opposition from mayors, law enforcement officials and advocates against domestic violence.
Coalition-building and dynamic advocacy are hallmarks of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. At a time when key national issues too often stagnate in Washington, this team has forged ahead with groundbreaking research and some notable victories. Working with Walmart, the largest seller of guns in the country, the coalition developed a 10-point retailer code that is already helping to stop illegal gun purchases.
There has also been movement in the executive branch. This past year the Obama Administration established a rule to monitor bulk purchases of semi-automatic rifles in Southwest border states. First proposed in a report by our coalition, this measure could save thousands of lives by reducing the number of U.S. guns that end up in the Mexican drug war.
Too many innocent people have been hurt or killed due to illegal gun activity. Ignoring this problem only leads to more unlawful weapons entering our streets and our schools. Mayors from New Jersey and across the country must stay resolute and vocal in the battle for common sense gun policies. To every newly-elected mayor in the state and to those already in office,
I urge you to become a part of this life-saving coalition.
To join or learn more about Mayors Against Illegal Guns visit www.mayorsagainstillegalguns.org.
Originally published in New Jersey
Municipalities, Volume 89, Number 3, March 2012