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Mayors Query the Candidates on Guns

DES MOINES -- Some of America's mayors want to know where the presidential candidates stand on guns, and they've gotten tired of waiting. So today they will send a detailed questionnaire -- filled with pointed questions -- to all of them.

The questionnaire was developed by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which claims a bipartisan group of 250 mayors across the country, including the leaders of San Francisco, San Diego, Washington, Miami, Tallahassee, Chicago, Baltimore and others. Its most prominent member is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been aggressive in his efforts on behalf of gun control in his city.

"Members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns are committed to both respecting the rights of gun owners while cracking down on illegal guns," Bloomberg said in a statement. "Americans deserve to hear if those who want to be president of the United States will do the same. I hope this questionnaire puts illegal guns, and criminals' easy access to them, in a prominent position in our national conversation."

In an open letter to the candidates, the group asks for responses to the questions by Jan. 2, the day before the Iowa caucus.

And the questions are often pointed.

Number two asks whether candidates will support allowing mental health records to be accessed as part of the criminal background checks made when someone tries to purchase a gun. That became an issue after a mentally unstable young man killed 32 people at Virginia Tech this year. Question number seven asks whether the candidates support barring gun ownership for all people convicted of a sex crime. Question number 14 asks whether the candidates will support reinstating an assault weapons ban.

The full letter and questionnaire follow the jump.

--Michael D. Shear

An Open Letter to Presidential Candidates

Dear Presidential Candidates

Mayors Against Illegal Guns is a bi-partisan coalition that began last year with just 15 mayors and has grown to more than 250 mayors from around the country representing 50 million Americans. We are committed to common sense policies that keep guns out of the hands of criminals. This fall, we are asking all the Democratic and Republican candidates for president to answer a few straightforward questions on the issue of illegal guns.

Every day, 30 Americans are murdered with guns - that's a Virginia Tech-sized tragedy occurring every single day in America. The majority of those murders are committed with illegal guns by criminals who under existing laws never should have had access to those weapons in the first place. Across the country the trends are getting worse. According to the FBI, violent crime is up in the last year, and fatal shootings of police officers are up an alarming 40% so far this year.

As mayors, we are on the front lines of the battle against crime and illegal guns. It is mayors who get the calls in the middle of the night when a police officer or a child is shot - and it is mayors who often have to break that news to families. Public safety is our most fundamental responsibility, but the problem of illegal guns stretches across state lines, which is why we have formed this coalition - and why we need support from Washington. That is why we think it is important that you share your views with the mayors in this coalition.

With this letter, we have enclosed a list of questions. These questions cover issues that the coalition has taken formal positions on, such as the "Terror Gap" that prevents the federal government from stopping gun sales to suspected terrorists, and the Tiahrt Amendment restrictions on law enforcement access to gun trace data. The questionnaire also discusses other issues on which the coalition has not taken any formal position, but that many individual mayors in the coalition have raised as topics of interest. We request that every candidate for president reply to these questions by January 2, 2008.

You should know that the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition will not endorse a candidate for president. However, your answers will be made available to mayors within the coalition to assist them in their choices. Your answers will also be made available to the general public to inform the debate on these important issues of national concern.

Sincerely,

Mayors Against Illegal Guns


ACCESS TO DATA

1. Tiahrt Amendment: In 2004, Congress put in place an appropriations restriction that limits access by local law enforcement, cities, and states to crime gun trace data, which police chiefs say is critical for catching criminals, illegal traffickers, and dealers who break the law. For example, according to ATF, 57% of guns recovered in crimes originate from just 1.2% of gun dealers - yet the Tiahrt Amendment has prevented cities and states from identifying these dealers. Mayors from across the country, 10 national police organizations and 22 state and regional police groups have called on Congress to repeal the Tiahrt Amendment restrictions. As President, would you include the Tiahrt Amendment crime gun trace data restrictions in your budgets for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)?

2. National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Records: Federal law currently prohibits persons determined to be mentally unstable from purchasing or possessing firearms. As you may know, under this existing prohibition Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, was legally prohibited from buying guns. Unfortunately, millions of mental health records are currently missing from the federal NICS background check database. According to the Department of Justice and the nonpartisan congressional Office of Technology Assessment indicate that less than 15% of the "mentally defective" people who should be prevented from having guns under federal law are included in the NICS database. Do you support legislation that seeks to ensure that states provide all mental health and other records of persons already prohibited from buying guns to the federal NICS background check database?

3. Microstamping: In September 2007, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation to require that all new models of guns manufactured or sold in California include "microstamping" technology starting in 2010. This California legislation was endorsed by the California Police Chiefs' Association, Police Officers Research Association of California, Los Angeles County Police Chiefs' Association, Los Angeles Police Protective League, Orange County Chiefs' and Sheriffs' Association, and 65 individual California police chiefs and sheriffs. Firearms microstamping is a technology that leaves microscopic identifications on shell casings at crime scenes. Do you support legislation that would require new firearms sold in the United States to include microstamping technology?

TOUGHENING PUNISHMENT

4. Illegal Traffickers: Do you support increasing the maximum penalty for illegal gun trafficking crimes from 10 years to 20 years [relating to penalties under 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(d), 924(g), 924(h), and 924(n), consistent with provisions of S.77 (110th Congress)]?

5. Illegal Possession: Do you support increasing the maximum penalty for illegal firearms possession from 10 years to 15 years [relating to penalties under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)]?

ENFORCEMENT OF FEDERAL LAW

6. "Terror Gap": Six years after 9/11, the federal government lacks the authority to prevent gun sales to suspects on terror watch lists. A 2005 GAO study found that 47 suspected terrorists were able to purchase guns from dealers in just a nine-month period because of this "Terror Gap" in federal laws. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representative Peter King (R-NY) have introduced the "Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act" (S.1237 and H.R. 2074) to give the Department of Justice the authority to stop gun sales to terror suspects. The Bush Administration and the Department of Justice have endorsed S.1237 and H.R.2074. As president, would you support passage of legislation to close this Terror Gap in federal laws?

7. Sex Offenders: Every state maintains registries of convicted sex offenders. Right now, under federal law, felony sex offenders are prohibited from purchasing firearms but there are no restrictions on the hundreds of thousands of convicted misdemeanor sex offenders' ability to purchase firearms. Because of the practical difficulties of prosecuting sex crime cases, many defendants are permitted to plead guilty to lesser misdemeanor sex offenses despite the severity of their actual conduct for reasons unrelated to the merits of the case, such as sparing a child from having to testify against a relative or having to testify at all. Therefore, many defendants convicted of a misdemeanor sex offense may pose an equal danger as those convicted of a felony offense. Do you support legislation to bar all convicted sex offenders from purchasing and possessing firearms?

8. "Gun Show Loophole": Currently, individuals are able to sell multiple guns as so-called "private sellers" without conducting background checks on the buyers. This practice is often associated with gun shows. Would you support legislation that would require background checks on these types of sales?

9. Secure Identification for Gun Purchases: In 2013, the federal "Real ID Act" will go into full effect. In order to get into a federal building or to get on a commercial airplane, all persons will have to show secure identification that is compliant with the Real ID Act. However, unless the law is amended, people would not need to show Real ID-compliant identification to buy guns. Requiring gun purchasers to show Real ID-compliant identification could help prevent sales to persons already prohibited from buying firearms, including felons (who might be able to more easily fake non compliant IDs) and undocumented aliens (who, unless INS has flagged them individually in the background check system, can now buy guns by misrepresenting their status on the background check form). Do you support a change in federal law to require that gun purchasers show Real ID-compliant identification by 2013?

STRENGTHENING ATF ENFORCEMENT

10. Dealer Inventory Sell-offs: Right now, all gun dealers are required to do background checks, but federal law allows dealers who lose their licenses to sell off their entire inventory as so-called "private sellers" without doing any checks at all. These inventory sell-offs reward instead of punish gun dealers who break the law. Do you believe that gun dealers whose licenses have been revoked for selling guns illegally should be allowed to continue selling guns in their inventory without doing background checks?

11. Dealer Inventory Controls: In 2005, during inspections of less than 5% of licensed gun dealers, ATF found that more than 12,000 guns had disappeared from dealer inventories. Right now, these inventory discrepancies typically come to light only during ATF inspections. Do you support a requirement that gun dealers conduct an inventory at least once per year and report any missing guns to ATF?

12. ATF Resources: On average, according to ATF, it inspects a dealer only once every 17 years. ATF has recently announced a goal of inspecting dealers at least once every three years. As president, would you support an increase in ATF's inspection budget to allow it to meet this goal by 2010?

13. Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) Employee Background Checks: Federal law prohibits felons, drug addicts, the mentally ill, and other prohibited persons from purchasing, possessing, or transferring firearms. However, existing federal law does not require gun dealers to perform background checks to determine whether or not an employee involved in gun sales is a felon or other prohibited person. Do you think that licensed gun dealers should be required to perform background checks on all employees who handle firearms to identify current or prospective employees who may be prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms themselves?

MILITARY-STYLE ASSAULT WEAPONS

14. Recent local studies suggest that high-powered military weapons are being used more frequently by criminals since the ban on these weapons expired in 2004. For example, in Miami these weapons were used in only 4 fatal shootings in 2004, the year the ban expired. By 2006, these weapons were used to murder 15 people in Miami. Moreover, with fatal shootings of police officers up 40% so far this year, some law enforcement organizations have expressed concern about criminals armed with military-grade weapons. President Bush supports reinstatement of the assault weapons ban. Do you support legislation to prohibit the sale of assault weapons?

LOCAL POLICE FUNDING AND RISING VIOLENT CRIME

15. COPS Funding: A 2005 GAO report estimated that the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program had contributed to a 1.3% decline in the overall crime rate and a 2.5% drop in violent crime from 1993 to 2000. Despite these apparent successes, COPS funding has been substantially curtailed in recent years. What is your opinion of the COPS program and what do you believe is the appropriate funding level for that program?

16. Fighting Violent Crime: In the last year, violent crime is up 1.9% across the country. As president, what measures would you take to stem the rising tide of violent crime across the country, which so many mayors believe is a critical national priority?

By Web Politics Editor  |  December 10, 2007; 12:49 PM ET
 
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