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John Rosenthal

A chance for sensible gun laws

By John Rosenthal
November 27, 2008
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WITH THE historic election of Barack Obama, the nation finally has an opportunity to enact sensible national gun policy. Obama should look to big cities, especially Boston, for guidance.

Big-city mayors know all too well the devastating impact a failed national gun policy has had on people living in urban America. Most of the 83 Americans who die every day from gun violence live in cities. The average annual US death toll from guns is 34,000 Americans. Comparatively, over the past 30 years, 1,035,000 Americans have died from guns in the United States versus 655,000 US service men and women killed in all foreign wars combined.

In 1999, with active support and funding for cities and the hard work of law enforcement, the United States experienced its lowest violent-crime rate in 30 years. Since George W. Bush took office in 2000, funding for community policing and economic opportunities for the poor have been curtailed and mayors across the country have struggled with the repercussions of a Congress and president unwilling to stand up to the powerful special-interest gun lobby.

Consequently, cutbacks in inner-city programs and law enforcement, comgined with the gun lobby being allowed to dictate gun police, have resulted in unrestricted access to guns and a prohibition on police sharing critical crime-gun trace data even among law enforcement.

No surprise that gun violence has risen steadily over the past eight years. There isn't even a law requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales in 32 states, and criminals and terrorists have been proven to exploit this dangerous loophole in federal law. Is it any wonder why America is the gun violence capital of the world and US urban areas have become war zones?

Nonetheless, there's tremendous hope. Boston has continued to lead the nation in effective community policing, law enforcement, and gun violence prevention initiatives.

Mayor Thomas Menino was the first big-city mayor to lead the nation in gun violence prevention. In the 1990s, Boston made history with its dramatic reduction in gang-related gun violence, and by 2001, largely because of efforts in Boston, Massachusetts had the lowest firearm fatality rate in the nation.

Since then, with little federal support, Menino has continued to demonstrate strong leadership. Against incredible odds and with more than 60 percent of guns traced to crimes coming from out of state, including Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont (which do not require background checks), Boston has sustained and developed new community policing and law enforcement strategies that have continued to build trust with residents and taken thousands of guns off the streets. Through the end of August 2008, there has been a 22 percent decrease in gun-related homicides in Boston and a 5 percent decline in nonfatal shootings versus the same period in 2007.

In the absence of leadership in Washington, Menino also co-founded, with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mayor's Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of more than 325 mayors from 40 states that advocates for best practices, develops innovative policies, and supports legislation at the national, state, and local levels that helps law enforcement target illegal guns.

Obama favors closing the gun show loophole and renewing the expired Assault Weapons Ban. He also wants to repeal of Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts cities and police departments from getting access to gun trace data.

Obama should also look to see what Menino has done in Boston and what Massachusetts has done overall to reduce gun violence. These successful initiatives, if replicated nationwide, would save lives immediately, and would not negatively impact responsible and law-abiding gun owners.

John Rosenthal is co-founder of Stop Handgun Violence, Common Sense About Kids and Guns and American Hunters and Shooters Association.

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