By: WILL JONES
Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones on Monday joined relatives of gun-violence victims, including ones killed or injured in the mass shootings at Virginia Tech, in endorsing a campaign to close gaps in federal gun laws.
The Fix Gun Checks campaign was launched in February after the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., in which a gunman killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.
The campaign, sponsored by the bipartisan coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns, is calling for an updated national database of people who are legally prohibited from buying guns, as well as for background checks on every purchase.
Campaign spokesman Omar Samaha, whose sister, Reema, was among those killed in gunman Seung-Hui Cho's massacre at Virginia Tech in April 2007, said the measures would be a good first step. He said Cho was able to pass two background checks when he bought guns used in the rampage despite having been ordered by a judge to get mental-health treatment 16 months earlier.
"We are trying to make it at least more difficult (to buy guns), and we're not trying to create a public forum where felons, criminals and those adjudicated mentally ill are purchasing guns," Samaha said.
To reinforce its message, the campaign is traveling across the country with a billboard truck that includes a LED counter that's updated every 42 minutes to reflect the number of "Americans Murdered with Guns Since Tucson."
The tally, which is based on the national average of 34 people murdered in gun violence per day, showed 3,878 as the truck was parked along 10th Street by Richmond City Hall. Also endorsing the campaign were Del. Delores L. McQuinn, D-Richmond, and state Sens. Henry L. Marsh III, D-Richmond and A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico.
About 20 supporters of the Virginia Citizens Defense League attended the news conference to express opposition to tightening gun laws.
The changes requested by Mayors Against Illegal Guns would do little to reduce crime and would infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners while also allowing the government to create a de facto gun registry, said Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. "Criminals have two guaranteed ways to get guns. They can steal the guns. ... They can simply do a straw purchase. ... There's no way to stop that."
The gun-rights advocacy group challenges the coalition's mainstream appeal. Van Cleave said Mayors Against Illegal Guns represents less than 7 percent of the more than 8,000 mayors of cities with populations of at least 30,000. He said about 75 percent of the membership comes from six states — New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and California.
But Lori Haas, whose daughter, Emily, was hurt in the shootings at Virginia Tech, said she doesn't understand the resistance. "If they're law-abiding citizens, then why don't they want to stop those criminals who give gun owners a bad name?"