Fix Gun Checks Campaign comes to Florida

This seems like the most basic tactic for preventing gun violence and incidents like the attack on Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The organization held an event in Orlando Wednesday with Mayor Buddy Dyer and other local officials.


From the Orlando Sentinel:


"She was a freshman, 18-years-old, 4.0 GPA, member of the contemporary dance ensemble at Virginia Tech," Omar Samaha said of his sister, Reema.


Like 31 others, she was "full of promise," he said, "they had a lot going on for them."


"And they were killed by someone who should never have been able to own a gun," he said of the massacre almost four years ago.


For eight weeks, Samaha has been traveling with the Fix Gun Checks Campaign, which stopped in Orlando on Wednesday for a rally in front of City Hall.


Mayor Buddy Dyer and Police Chief Val Demings, as well as DeLand City Commissioner Vonzelle Johnson, spoke at the event, one of multiple such events on the campaign's nationwide tour.


Its stated aim is to urge legislation to ensure that people legally prohibited from purchasing guns are entered into background check systems and to require checks "for every gun sale in America.".


These type of stories are way too common. A student a few miles from me in Tallahassee was shot recently because a drunken fellow student pulled out a gun at a party and it went off, killing her. And all of our Florida readers should be quite familiar with the recent shooting of police officers in St. Pete and elsewhere.


The Fix Gun Checks campaign issued a full press release along with the event. The key paragraphs:


“Five police officers have been murdered in our state in the past few months by people (habitual felons) who should have never been allowed to possess guns in the first place, or been out of prison roaming our streets,” said Orlando Police Chief Val Demings. “Our laws must be designed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous felons and keep them behind bars."


More than 2,300 Floridians were murdered with guns between 2007 and 2009. Gun shows held in the state – which does not require background checks for private sales, including those completed at gun shows – have been linked to international terrorism and drug cartels.


In 1999, a soldier in the Irish Republican Army bought more than $18,000 in firearms from federally licensed gun dealers and gun shows in Florida. Hugh Crumpler pleaded guilty to unlicensed gun dealing after trafficking more than a thousand firearms to groups who exported the weapons to South and Central America. Several of the firearms were later used in crimes associated with notorious drug organizations in Puerto Rico and Columbia.


These numbers are a disgrace. This is a problem that can certainly be mitigated by government action. Can we stop all gun violence? Of course not. Can we stop a lot of it? Most certainly. The only thing stopping us is political will. Are you willing to explain to the families of the next victims why we didn't take common-sense steps to prevent the next shooting? I'm not.


A key issue for Floridians is that neither of our U.S. Senators has come out in favor of the universal background checks that were first proposed by the mayors and are now part of a bill sponsored by Chuck Schumer. This seems like a terrible stance for them to take in response to the shocking events in Florida in recent months. I think it would be a good idea for us to call the offices of Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio and ask them why they aren't supporting this legislation, which is as noncontroversial and common-sense as legislation comes. Call them and let me know what they say, and I'll post it.


Bill Nelson: List of all office phone numbers


Marco Rubio: List of office phone numbers


The full press release follows:


ORLANDO MAYOR, POLICE CHIEF, LOCAL FAMILY MEMBERS OF GUN VICTIMS AND 13,000 FLORIDIANS URGE CONGRESS TO FIX U.S. GUN BACKGROUND CHECK SYSTEM


6 of 21 Recent U.S. Cop Killings Occurred in Florida - All by Purchasers Who Were Legally Barred From Owning Firearms


34 Americans Murdered Every Day with Guns


Follow the Fix Gun Checks Campaign and Mobile Truck Team at www.FixGunChecks.org


Standing in front of Orlando’s City Hall today, Mayor Buddy Dyer, Police Chief Val Demings, DeLand City Commissioner Vonzelle Johnson and the families of local gun violence victims endorsed a plan by more than 550 mayors to close loopholes that allow criminals and other dangerous individuals to slip through the nation’s gun background check system. Participants focused on the fact that five people who killed Florida police officers this year all had backgrounds that should have prevented them from getting guns under federal law.


Weeks after President Obama signaled his support for building a background check system that is “instant, accurate and comprehensive,” the event marked the beginning of an eight-day tour through the state by the Fix Gun Checks Campaign. The campaign, featuring a mobile billboard truck that advertises the number of Americans killed by guns since Tucson, will meet with mayors, law enforcement officials and the Floridians across the state whose lives have been touched by gun violence. Nearly 13,000 Floridians and 250,000 Americans have signed petitions supporting a plan to reform the background check system.


“Since 2008… we’ve taken more than 26-hundred illegal, crime guns off the street in Orlando,” said mayor Buddy Dyer. “It’s no coincidence that in this time we have seen the number of homicides drop in our City by more than 40 percent. The officers who patrol our streets need help from Washington to keep our City safe and to keep guns out of the hands of the dangerous few. We need a comprehensive background check system with complete records and a check for every gun buyer. I call on our representatives in Congress to pass the Fix Gun Checks Act immediately.”


“Five police officers have been murdered in our state in the past few months by people ( habitual felons) who should have never been allowed to possess guns in the first place, or been out of prison roaming our streets,” said Orlando Police Chief Val Demings. “Our laws must be designed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous felons and keep them behind bars."


More than 2,300 Floridians were murdered with guns between 2007 and 2009. Gun shows held in the state – which does not require background checks for private sales, including those completed at gun shows – have been linked to international terrorism and drug cartels.


In 1999, a soldier in the Irish Republican Army bought more than $18,000 in firearms from federally licensed gun dealers and gun shows in Florida. Hugh Crumpler pleaded guilty to unlicensed gun dealing after trafficking more than a thousand firearms to groups who exported the weapons to South and Central America. Several of the firearms were later used in crimes associated with notorious drug organizations in Puerto Rico and Columbia.


The Fix Gun Checks Truck was launched after the Tucson shootings by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bi-partisan coalition of more than 550 mayors that advocates common-sense reforms to keep guns out of dangerous hands and includes 33 Florida mayors .


The mayors’ proposal was developed in the wake of the Tucson rampage that killed six and wounded 13 others, including Rep. Gabby Giffords. The Arizona shooter, Jared Loughner, was an admitted habitual drug user. That fact led the U.S. Army to reject him and should have barred him from owning guns under current law, but his records were never sent to the NICS database.


The national partnership of mayors wants to increase incentives for states to send records of people who are legally barred from buying guns to the federal do-not-sell database. These “prohibited purchasers” include criminals, drug abusers, domestic violence offenders and the mentally ill. The mayors would also require all gun buyers to pass a background check.


In a March 13 Arizona Daily Star column, President Obama said the nation needs “an instant, accurate, comprehensive and consistent system for background checks to sellers who want to do the right thing, and make sure that criminals can't escape it.”


Every day 34 Americans are murdered by guns; the Fix Gun Checks truck displays this number and has a running LCD tally of victims since the Tucson tragedy. Omar Samaha, whose sister Reema was killed at Virginia Tech, has been traveling with the truck coast-to-coast.


The Fix Gun Checks Campaign


On February 16, the bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition launched the “Fix Gun Checks Truck Tour,” a mobile billboard traveling across the country to call attention to glaring problems in the U.S. gun background check system.


The “Fix Gun Checks Truck Tour” is part of an online advocacy campaign, www.fixgunchecks.org that includes an online petition encouraging citizens to join the call to improve the do-not-sell system.


More than 250,000 Americans, including nearly 13,000 Floridians, have already signed the petition calling on President Obama and Congress to act. The Fix Gun Checks Truck will deliver the petition to Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio to encourage them to support reform of the background check system.


The Background Check System is Broken


The U.S. gun background check system is riddled with holes that enable dangerous people to slip through the cracks and purchase guns.


Millions of records on prohibited purchasers are missing from the NICS database. In April 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, who had a history of serious mental illness, was able to pass a background check and buy the firearms he used to kill 32 people at Virginia Tech because records of his mental illness had never been submitted to NICS.


Jared Loughner, the Tucson shooter, was disqualified from military service after he admitted that he was a habitual drug user, which should have barred him from buying firearms. The Army never submitted information about his drug abuse to the background check system.


In the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy, Congress passed the NICS Improvement Amendment Act, which was intended to incentivize states to submit records of prohibited gun purchasers – including felons, drug abusers, domestic violence offenders and the mentally ill – into the system. Congress, however, has chronically failed to provide enough funding for these efforts, and has not imposed tough penalties for noncompliance.


Almost four years after Virginia Tech, ten states have not submitted any mental health records to NICS, and 18 states have submitted fewer than 100 records.


Even if the NICS system had contained the necessary records to flag Cho and Loughner as prohibited purchasers, the shooters could have easily bought their guns from a private seller. Under current federal law, all federally licensed gun dealers are required to conduct background checks on gun purchasers. But private “occasional sellers” who sell firearms at gun shows, through classified ads, in parking lots or on the Internet may sell guns without conducting checks. Private sales account for an estimated 40% of all gun sales in the United States.


Two Simple Solutions: Send the Records, Close the Gaps


Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) recently introduced the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011 (S.436), legislation that would make vital improvements to the national gun background checks system. Based on a proposal first developed by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the bill would take two critical steps to stop prohibited purchasers from slipping through cracks in current law.


First, the Fix Gun Checks Act would impose tougher penalties on states that do not comply with laws that require them to send their records on prohibited purchasers to the NICS system.


Today, states that fail to report to the NICS database 50 percent or more of their records on individuals who are not allowed to buy firearms face a maximum three percent cut in their Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) funding. The Fix Gun Checks Act would increase the reporting requirement to 75 percent by FY2013 and 90 percent by FY2018. The amount of JAG funding states could lose would increase to 15 percent and 25 percent, respectively.


In addition, federal agencies would be required to certify to the U.S. Attorney General twice every year that they have submitted all relevant records to the NICS database.


Second, the Fix Gun Checks Act would require a background check for every gun sale. The bill would require private sellers to verify, either with local law enforcement or through certified gun dealers that the person they are selling to is not on the national do-not-sell list. The bill would include reasonable exceptions, including sales to law enforcement and transfers among immediate family members.


About Mayors Against Illegal Guns


Since its inception in April 2006, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has grown from 15 mayors to more than 550. The coalition has united the nation’s mayors around these common goals: protecting their communities by holding gun offenders and irresponsible gun dealers accountable, demanding access to trace data that is critical to law enforcement efforts to combat illegal gun trafficking, and working with legislators to fix gaps, weaknesses and loopholes in the law that make it far too easy for criminals and other prohibited purchasers to get guns.


Contact: Fix the Gun Checks Campaign, Alex Howe (212) 260-8813 or [email protected]


Expect to hear a lot more from me on this story and related topics in the coming months...

Kenneth Quinnell is the founder and executive director of the Florida Progressive Coalition.

I think I've mentioned this a time or two before, but the main reason that I got into online politics and blogging in the first place was Columbine.

Like most Americans, I was horrified when it happened, but I thought to myself, at least this will finally convince right-wingers that sensible gun control laws are necessary to reduce the loss of life we see in America. I was shocked at the response, which was, effectively, "no."

I had a hard time believing that, so I did what I usually do in those situations; I decided to catalog all of the evidence possible and make the logical case as to why gun control was the right thing to do. Other topics and blogging grew from that initial online project.

So when I recently found out about some common-sense efforts to bring the issue of gun control back to the public discourse, I jumped at the opportunity to write about them. And today, it seems, we've got some Florida-related things to write about on the issue of the gun problem in the United States.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns has launched a new campaign called "Fix Gun Checks" designed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

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