Mayors from across the Garden State converged on a North Jersey town today to rebuke federal politicians for their inaction on gun control measures.
New Jersey's contingent of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an 800-strong coalition nationwide, voiced their frustration with Congress for not acting to ban assault weapons, make gun trafficking a federal crime or increase background checks on potential gun owners. The group met in Cranford, just as counterparts from Vermont to New Mexico held their own local meetings.
"It has nothing to do with the Second Amendment; it's about gun violence," said former New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio, who joined the group of local legislative leaders and law enforcement officials. Florio took much of the credit for getting tough with New Jersey gun laws in the 1990s.
"We formulated this issue in terms of whether the people in the state thought it was in the public interest to have more access to Uzis and AK-47s."
New Jersey's representation on Mayors Against Illegal Guns spans the state. Local members include Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn, Collingswood Mayor James Maley, Camden Mayor Dana Redd and Merchantville Mayor James N. North.
A dozen New Jersey mayors arrive in Washington, DC, this week to talk to Congress and advocate for changes in response to mass gun violence across the country—most recently, the massacre in Newtown, CT, which happened one month ago.
"We've had enough calls and emails; we're going to go and sit face-to-face with Congress and their staff," said Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, who will make the trip to DC. "For now is the time for them to crack down on gun violence."
Thirty-three Americans are killed with guns every day, the mayors group said. Florio blamed gunmakers for the lack of movement in new gun legislation in the wake of several mass killings.
"The real motivation for this whole thing is profit. Gun manufacturers, gun dealers—they're the driving force behind this," he said. "Many legitimate sportsmen, many legitimate hunters are embarrassed by the NRA, whose answer to gun violence is to say we should have more guns. That makes no sense."
Perhaps the most personal testimonial for gun control came from the parent of a victim in the Virginia Tech shootings six years ago. Michael Pohle, a Flemington man who said his son's head was nearly shot off in the massacre, said there needs to be something done about the prevalence of high-powered guns. They're becoming bigger and deadlier, Pohle said.
"My son was killed with a semi-automatic handgun. The weapon of choice now has evolved. It is now a high-capacity semi-automatic rifle. Next, are we talking about shoulder-powered rocket launchers, which are perfectly legal to buy and sell at a private sell without a background check," he said.
Pohle called his own congressman, Leonard Lance (R-NJ), on the carpet over gun control.
"I am very sorry to say my congressman in Hunterdon County, Leonard Lance, has been silent," said Pohle. "All he has done is put an occasional note on his website saying he is open to the discussion. He is a coward. This demands action."
Lance, who wasn't in attendance, later issued a response to Pohle. The congressman said he spoke with Pohle following the Newtown shooting and spoke about his support for "reducing gun violence in America." In an email from his press office, Lance said he was committed to "crafting a comprehensive, bipartisan response to these recent senseless acts of mass violence."
“I look forward to reviewing the recommendations put forth by the president's working group on gun violence and stand ready to work with Mr. Pohle and others toward the common goal of keeping firearms out of the hands of those in our society who wish to do harm,” Lance said.
The coalition of mayors urges Congress to consider three strategies to reduce gun violence:
- Require criminal background checks for all gun sales, including private sales and gun show sales. Currently, only licensed dealers are required to check.
- Ban on military-style and assault style weapons and high-capacity magazines. "They have no other purpose other than to kill human beings in mass quantities," state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union) said at the event. "There is absolutely no reason for them to exist."
- Increase gun trafficking charges to federal crime.
One sentiment at the event, expressed by Pohle and the the basis of the coalition's stance on gun control and gun violence, is simple—enough is enough.
For more information on the efforts of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group created a website: demandaplan.org.