Something must be done about gun violence.
That was both the message from both Morristown area leaders, as well as those gathered Monday in Cranford for a Mayors Against Illegal Guns advocacy group rally.
Cranford wasn't the only town where officials from the advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns were gathered. From Vermont to New Mexico, members of the 800-strong coalition of elected officials voiced their frustration to Washington and pushed legislators to support laws that ban violent assault weapons, makes gun trafficking a federal crime and increases the background checks on potential gun owners.
"It has nothing to do with the Second Amendment, it's about gun violence," said former N.J. Gov. Jim Florio, who joined the group of local legislative leaders and law enforcement officials. Florio took much of the credit for getting tough with N.J. gun laws in the 1990s.
"We formulated this issue in terms of whether the people in the state thought it was in the public interest to have more access to Uzi's and AK-47s."
A group of a dozen New Jersey mayors will embark on a trip to Washington, D.C. this week to talk to Congress and advocate for a set of changes in response to events of mass gun violence across the country, most recently, the massacre in Newtown, Conn.
"We've had enough calls and emails, we're going to go and sit face-to-face with Congress and their staff," said Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, who will be headed to Washington on Wednesday. "For now is the time for them to crackdown on gun violence."
While many mayors in New Jersey have signed up for the advocacy group, only two--James Barberio in Parsippany and Robert Conley in Madison--are from Morris County.
Several of those, however, acknowledge the problem of gun violence throughout the country. "I have always been against assault weapons, I don't think they are needed by residents," said Morris Plains Mayor Frank Druetzler. "It's an accident waiting to happen. Nobody needs an assault weapon to go hunting. That's absurd . I don't know what you would need it for. I just can't see it."
Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, who said he planned to meet with a representative from the Mayors Against Illegals Guns next week, said he fully supported the group and its mission.
"I think they are on the right track and continue to press to bring this to the forefront in light of the many things that happened over the last year, two years," he said. Not just banning assault weapons, Dougherty noted some have purchased guns legally, only to modify them into more dangerous weapons.
"It's a larger conversation when it comes to gun legislation," he said. "You have to make sure to not only ban assault weapons but the ability to convert different guns that are legal to purchase for hunting, that can be converted into semi or automatic weapons. That is a concern."
According to the group, there are 33 Americans murdered with guns everyday.
Florio blamed gunmakers for the lack of movement in new gun legislation in the wake of several mass killings.
"The real motivation for this whole thing is profit. Gun manufacturers, gun dealers, they're the driving force behind this," he said. "Many legitimate sportsmen, many legitimate hunters are embarrassed by the NRA, whose answer to gun violence is to say we should have more guns. That makes no sense."
Perhaps the most personal testimonial for gun control came from the parent of a victim in the Virginia Tech shootings six years ago. Michael Pohle, a Flemington man who said his son's head was nearly shot off in the massacre said there needs to be something done about the prevalence of high-powered guns, because they are becoming bigger, and deadlier.
"My son was killed with a semi-automatic handgun. The weapon of choice now, have evolved, it is now a high-capacity semi-automatic rifle. Next, are we talking about shoulder-powered rocket launchers which are perfectly legal to buy and sell at a private sell without a background check," he said.
Pohle took Congressman Leonard Lance to task for his attention to gun control.
"I am very sorry to say my Congressman in Hunterdon County, Leonard Lance, has been silent," said Pohle. "All he has done is put an occasional note on his website saying he is open to the discussion. He is a coward. This demands action."
Lance, who wasn't in attendance, later issued a response to Pohle. The Congressman said he emailed with Pohle following the Newtown shooting and wrote about his support for "reducing gun violence in America." In an email from his press office, Lance said he was committed to "crafting a comprehensive, bipartisan response to these recent senseless acts of mass violence."
“I look forward to reviewing the recommendations put forth by the President's working group on gun violence and stand ready to work with Mr. Pohle and others toward the common goal of keeping firearms out of the hands of those in our society who wish to do harm,” said Congressman Leonard Lance.
There are three things the coalition of mayors are urging Congress to consider:
- Requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales, including private sales and gun show sales. Currently, only licensed dealers are required to check.
- Ban on military-style and assault style weapons and high-capacity magazines. "They have no other purpose other than to kill human beings in mass quantities," Sen. Ray Lesniak said at the event. "There is absolutely no reason for them to exist."
- Increase gun trafficking charges to federal crime.
One sentiment at the event, which was expressed by Pohle, and is clearly the basis of the coalition's stance on gun control and gun violence is that enough is enough.
For more information on the efforts of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group created a website, www.DemandAPlan.org.