Monday, January 22, 2007

In November, one of the clear messages voters sent Congress was to knock off the partisan gamesmanship and start finding common ground on real solutions. It’s a message legislators in both parties should heed, and one that mayors have traditionally embraced. By putting aside ideology and focusing on facts, consensus becomes possible — even on an issue as divisive as guns.

We understand that there are good people on both sides of the gun debate — and we respect each side. But for too long, this ideological gap has obscured a basic truth: The vast majority of guns used in crimes are purchased and possessed illegally. Criminals who cannot buy guns legally nevertheless have easy access to them on the black market, which puts innocent people, especially our police officers, at great risk. Surely, members of both political parties can agree this is wrong, and that the laws against the illegal sale and possession of guns should be properly and vigorously enforced. It’s a no-brainer.

That’s why, last year, we formed a bipartisan coalition of mayors to begin pushing for common-sense approaches to illegal guns, particularly tougher enforcement of existing laws. In only eight months, our coalition has grown from 15 to more than 100 mayors, from cities big and small in 44 states, and representing all parts of the political spectrum.

We are diverse in every way, but we all share an understanding of one basic fact: This issue has nothing to do with the Second Amendment and everything to do with law enforcement. And we all share a commitment to put public safety above politics.

Today, more than 50 mayors in our bipartisan coalition will gather in Washington. We bring Congress a simple message: It’s time to get tough on illegal guns. We also bring a common-sense proposal: eliminate federal restrictions to data on guns used in crimes. This will help local law enforcement agencies identify and shut down illegal gun traffickers.

Most gun dealers are honest businesses that carefully follow the law. As a result, guns used in crimes are rarely — if ever — traced back to their stores. According to such “trace data,” which is obtained only after a gun is used in a crime, in any given year 85 percent of dealers do not sell any guns used in crimes. However, a handful of irresponsible dealers are causing all the problems. In fact, trace data show about 1 percent of gun sellers account for 60 percent of all guns used in crimes.

If we are serious about protecting our citizens, we have a responsibility to hold these stores accountable for following the law. One of the best ways to do so is by using trace data to identify the dealers who are the worst offenders, and then take enforcement actions against them — just as we would do with any other business that repeatedly violated the law.

For the last four years, however, Congress has limited cities’ access to trace data. In addition, Congress has prohibited law enforcement from using trace data to establish cause for revoking a rogue dealer’s license. In other words, Congress has not only restricted access to key evidence — it has ruled it inadmissible.

The argument for restricting access to trace data revolves around paranoia that if information on gun purchases becomes public, good dealers will be subject to harassment. Organizations like the International Association of Chiefs of Police recognize this argument lacks merit. But to address it, we would support measures to restrict public access to trace data. Our aim is reasonable consensus, not ideological posturing — the stakes are too high for that.

The year 2005 saw 55 law enforcement officers murdered — 50 of them with guns. Two of those murdered were New York City police officers. You can bet the vast majority of these guns were possessed illegally, as is the case for most of the 12,000 murders that occur each year, with children too often the innocent victims.

At today’s summit, we will be joined by representatives from the American Hunters and Shooters Association, because — as a new national poll shows — the vast majority of gun-owning Americans support common-sense measures to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, including eliminating restrictions on gun trace data.

By joining forces, mayors, police chiefs and gun owners can show members of Congress that finding common ground is possible on this issue — if they have the courage to put public safety ahead of ideology.

Michael Bloomberg is mayor of New York. Thomas Menino is mayor of Boston.

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