INSIDE WASHINGTON/Mayors hit D.C. for gun measures
Local leaders, angry that Congress has dragged its feet on the Juvenile Justice bill, converged on Washington last month to urge passage of legislation containing gun control measures they say are needed to help make their communities safer. More than 80 mayors, police chiefs and county officials joined pro-gun control senators and congressmen on Capitol Hill to say they were tired of congressional foot-dragging on the matter.
“You only have to hold one cop who dies in your arms,” said Clark County, Nev., Sheriff Jerry Keller at a press conference. “And you only have to see one child who has been shot die in the gutter to know that we have got to do everything as a community to make our cities safer.” Keller, whose jurisdiction includes Las Vegas, is vice-chairman of the Major City Police Chiefs, Washington, D.C.
Prior to their rally, local leaders received good news when President Clinton announced the availability of $147 million in community policing grants to hire 1,600 police officers nationwide and $15 million to help urban areas create gun buy-back programs. Still, the group was concerned that it received no assurances that legislation currently before Congress would be shaped to its satisfaction.
(The Senate version of the bill, approved in May, contains several provisions – including banning the importation of large ammunition clips, barring juveniles from possessing semi-automatic assault weapons, requiring mandatory child safety locks and closing the gun show loophole – that are supported by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The House version is considerably weaker.)
Still, it is clear that some in Congress are paying attention. “When local mayors and police come from all over the country to Capitol Hill to tell us that they need Congress to do something to stop the senseless epidemic of gun violence, then you know we ought to be listening,” says Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).
House and Senate negotiators are attempting to hammer out a compromise that could be finalized this month. That compromise may not include the Senate measures popular with local governments, and the issue has become a political hot potato for congressional and presidential candidates.
Local leaders insist that they are looking for action, not rhetoric, to solve the problem of gun violence in their communities. Citing figures from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (32,436 gun deaths in 1997, 13,522 of those homicides), Denver Mayor Wellington Webb said that getting guns off the streets is one way to make communities safer. “The more guns you have, the more people die,” Webb, currently the president of the USCM, told USA Today.
Frustrated by the lack of congressional help, some cities and counties have taken the gun situation into their own hands. Last month, for example, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to ban the sale of guns and ammunition on county property. That vote effectively puts the Great Western Gun Show out of business, since the show’s four annual events are held at the county fairgrounds in Pomona, 60 miles east of Los Angeles. (The gun show owners have pledged to sue the county over the matter.)
In Washington, D.C., local leaders implemented a gun buy-back program that not only has attracted the attention of other cities but has intrigued the president himself. Clinton’s grant program is a tribute to that success. The program will allow local police departments to apply for up to $500,000 to buy guns from people in and around housing projects. The guns are then destroyed.