- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty yesterday joined mayors from across the country in calling for stricter regulations at gun shows — a major issue in Virginia, where state lawmakers rejected the change following last year’s massacre at Virginia Tech.

“We can’t afford to wait for another tragedy like that to take these kinds of basic common-sense protections,” said New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, co-chairman of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, which held its annual summit in the District yesterday.

The bipartisan coalition — whose members include Mr. Bloomberg, an independent, Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, and roughly 300 others — said Congress must tighten gun laws that permit improper access to weapons.

Mr. Fenty also called on Congress to prohibit all firearms in the District — which is waiting on a decision regarding its 32-year-old gun ban from the Supreme Court — and said federal lawmakers will protect themselves but not city residents.

“Every year on Capitol Hill, as we keep fighting to make sure that we have better ammunition for our cities and that we can end these loopholes, every year Capitol Hill bunkers down a little bit more with another speed hump, with another barrier, with another camera, with more armed guards,” Mr. Fenty said. “One place in Washington D.C. a mayor doesn’t have to worry about guns is on Capitol Hill.”

The coalition said the gun-show “loophole” in federal law allows people who sell guns to avoid running background checks or keeping records by calling themselves “occasional sellers.”

Mr. Bloomberg said the loophole is one of four “glaring” gaps in the background-check system that contribute to illegal gun sales. Others include those that allow a “fire sale” by a gun dealer after being shut down by the government and the lack of a requirement that gun dealers perform criminal background checks on their employees.

“For the members of our coalition, the fight against illegal guns … is about law enforcement and public safety,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “Nothing else.”

In Virginia, fixing the gun-show loophole became a major issue again on April 16, 2007, when a disturbed Virginia Tech student killed 32 classmates and faculty members, then himself, in an on-campus rampage.

While the guns used by student Seung-hui Cho were not purchased at a gun show, those used by the gunmen in the 1999 Columbine High School shootings were. The Tech incident resulted in the creation of a review panel that concluded “Virginia should require background checks for all firearms sales, including those at gun shows.”

However, Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, and family members of Virginia Tech victims could not persuade state lawmakers to change the law.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, introduced legislation in January to pass federal laws for mandatory background checks at gun shows. The coalition yesterday also introduced a television ad showing footage of presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, both Democrats, and Sen. John McCain, a Republican, saying they support closing the gun-show loophole.

The District also has placed itself at the forefront of the nationwide debate over gun regulation: A decision from the Supreme Court on its gun ban could determine the future of gun-control efforts across the country and is expected by June.

In addition, Mr. Fenty and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy L. Lanier announced an initiative last month in which officers would go door to door without a warrant to ask residents if they could search their homes for guns in exchange for amnesty from certain charges.

But the Safe Homes initiative, modeled after a similar program in Boston, was scaled back after Chief Lanier said its details were not fully or properly explained. The searches now will be done by appointment and a resident’s request only and are scheduled to begin in mid-June.

Mr. Fenty said yesterday that Chief Lanier is continuing to “iron out everything” on the initiative, but the program is still projected to begin at the same time.

The mayor also acknowledged there is “some review that’s going on” of city laws in case the Supreme Court strikes down the gun ban, though officials hope for a decision in the city’s favor.

“It’s accurate to say that we’re 100 percent focused on just winning the case,” Mr. Fenty said.

Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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