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Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City hosted a meeting of 15 mayors at New York’s Gracie Mansion yesterday. They plan to lobby officials in Washington, D.C., for tougher laws.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City hosted a meeting of 15 mayors at New York’s Gracie Mansion yesterday. They plan to lobby officials in Washington, D.C., for tougher laws. (Jason Decrow for the Boston Globe)

At gun summit, mayors vow vigilance

Menino one of 15 leaders pledging to work together

NEW YORK -- Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston joined 14 other big-city mayors at a gun summit yesterday, all pledging to create regional intelligence databases to track illegal guns, launch a website to share information and antiviolence strategies, and put together a plan to lobby officials in Washington for stricter gun laws.

The mayors said they plan to reconvene later this year with an expanded group of 50 mayors. Yesterday's meeting included mayors from Washington, D.C., Providence, Hartford, Dallas, and Seattle, among other cities. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City, who cohosted the event with Menino at Manhattan's historic Gracie Mansion, said mayors from Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Durham, N.C., also expressed interest in attending meetings.

''Gun violence is a national problem that needs a national response," Menino said. ''If the White House isn't going to do it and Congress isn't going to do it, the mayors have to do it."

Menino said in 12 years as mayor he has not seen a similar movement by big city leaders to take on the gun industry and stiffen federal gun laws. He said Boston's murder tally last year was the highest in a decade and he expressed concern about a 67 percent increase in shootings so far this year. Bloomberg said he was moved to action in part by the back-to-back killings late last year of two New York City police officers. He said it is clear there's a need for national leadership given that 82 percent of guns used to commit crimes in New York City are purchased out of state, where laws are less restrictive.

None of the mayors from states where Menino has said many guns come from -- including Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama -- were present at yesterday's summit, though Menino said he hopes they will attend in the future. He said many mayors had scheduling conflicts with yesterday's meeting.

Menino said the mayors intend to travel to Washington with a message about the relationship between gun laws and the thousands of Americans who die at the hands of firearms annually.

''Thirty-thousand individuals are killed every year through gun violence," Menino said at a press conference after the four-hour closed session. ''Think about where we are in this country on the issue of the war and how people are outraged by that. Why aren't Americans outraged by 30,000 Americans killed by guns each year in America?"

Bloomberg also criticized new legislation being considered that would further restrict the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives from keeping extensive records and sharing information with local police departments. He said 1 percent of gun dealers supply 60 percent of guns used in crimes.

Lawrence G. Keane, a senior vice president at the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a Connecticut-based trade association, said his organization runs a program that helps gun dealers identify and stop illegal ''straw purchasers," people who buy guns legally with the intention of selling them illegally. Keane said his group asked to attend the gun summit and was turned away, which he found especially disturbing because the mayors invited gun control advocate Joshua Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

''There doesn't appear to have been any attempt to have a mature and balanced discussion," Keane said.

A study, released Monday and conducted by researchers from the University of Toledo, Kent State University, and Wayne State University, shows police chiefs across the country also support tougher gun-control measures.

Ninety-four percent of police chiefs support background checks for all handgun purchases; 83 percent want all new handguns equipped with trigger locks; and 82 percent want tamper-resistant serial numbers added to firearms, the study said.

Menino said the mayors tried to learn from one another. Menino said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly of New York spoke about the use of cameras to fight crime in certain areas, a tactic Menino said he would like to see expanded in Boston. In New York, officers watch and move cameras remotely with laptop computers in their cars.

''We're working right now on more cameras for our city," Menino said, citing Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester as three neighborhoods he is targeting for more cameras. ''They're going to places we need them most in the city."

As the mayors came to the podium to share stories about innocent children killed by stray gunfire, the day's theme became clear: America's mayors are on the front lines.

Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer recalled telling a mother her 7-year-old daughter had been shot in the face by stray gunfire in a gang dispute.

''I had to call that mother that night, and believe me, it wasn't pleasant," Palmer said. ''Maybe some of the people in Congress who feel so far removed from this issue and listen to other lobbying groups need to come with us mayors as we make calls to those families."

Suzanne Smalley can be reached at ssmalley@globe.com.

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