By David Cruz
A month after the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., mayors from more than a dozen New Jersey towns and cities gathered in Cranford today to keep the pressure on lawmakers for reforms to the nation’s gun laws. They’re part of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national coalition of now more than 800 mayors who have seen gun violence ravage their communities. Gov. Jim Florio was in office when New Jersey imposed its own assault weapons ban back in 1992.
“Now what we’re having is the same debate all over, after horrific experiences — Connecticut being the most visible — but there’s an ideal opportunity now for these coalitions to be able to carry the message because there’s division on the other side,” said Florio. Many legitimate hunters and sportsmen are embarrassed by the NRA, whose answer to gun violence is that we should have more guns.
The mayors released a new television spot featuring parents and families of victims of gun violence and plan to hit the halls of Congress on Wednesday to lobby lawmakers to support measures like expanded criminal background checks, a federal ban on assault rifles and high capacity magazines as well as making gun trafficking a federal crime. Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr says the mayors hope to make their case one lawmaker at a time.
“Our message when we go to Congress is very simple,” she said. “Pass sane gun laws now. Weapons designed for the battlefield have no place in Union County, no place in New Jersey or elsewhere.”
Union County Sheriff Ralph Froelich, holding up high capacity magazines and armor-piercing bullets, gave an impassioned speech, saying the violence had left him angry. “Thirty rounds of ammunition that with one squeeze of a trigger, in 12 to 15 seconds, you can have 30 rounds spraying through that room. Thirty rounds. This is what we’re fighting against,” he said. “You think that’s bad? It can go even further; to 50 rounds.”
Representing families of victims of gun violence, Michael Pohle shamed lawmakers for doing little to address gun laws, even after the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, an act of violence that claimed the lives of 32 people, including his son, Mike.
“I am all too familiar with what happens when a gun is sold in Virginia and what it can do,” he said. “My son’s head was nearly blown off. Enough is enough.”
President Barack Obama is expected to get recommendations from Vice President Joe Biden’s gun laws task force tomorrow.
“My starting point is to not to worry about the politics,” said Obama. “My starting point is to focus on what makes sense, what works, what should we be doing to make sure that our children are safe.”
Mayors here say the time for a full court press is now, while the images of shattered families and grieving communities are still resonating and before politics and other issues move the push for stricter gun laws to the back burner.