January 14, 2013Releases "Access Denied," a New Report on Efforts by Gun Lobby to Suppress Data and Research Funding on Gun Violence
The following are Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s remarks as delivered this morning at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland:
“The Governor, you should know, has always been a strong leader on gun violence. I remember meeting him in his office in Baltimore before I was mayor when he was mayor of this great city. And he was focusing on tackling gun crime then, and certainly as Governor now he is doing exactly the same thing for the people of Maryland.
“Maryland’s one of those states that has an urban, suburban and rural part of it. It has all of the problems that we have across this country – public health, public safety, education, economics – and it also has something that is very valuable, it happens to have a great Governor, and I’ve been a big fan of Governor O’Malley for a long time.
“And I just wanted to also thank you for your support for Johns Hopkins. It’s a great asset for Baltimore and for Maryland, but it’s a great asset for this country. And you and your other elected officials in Annapolis deserve a great deal of credit for recognizing that and the support that you’ve given to Hopkins for a long period of time is deeply appreciated. And I hope that we have paid it back and that you are getting something for your money.
“It’s great to be back at my alma mater, Johns Hopkins. President Ron Daniels called me a few weeks ago and said: We are putting together the best minds in the world on gun violence to produce a conference and a book, will you help kick it off? He didn’t have to ask twice.
“The fact that they were able to pull this conference together so quickly I think does show the dynamic and energetic commitment to scholarship and public service that I’ve always thought really defines the Hopkins spirit.
“It is clear that we meet today at a critical and I think hopeful moment. Just was one month ago at roughly this time on December 14th a deranged young man pulled into the parking lot of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and then shot his way into the building with a high-capacity semi-automatic rifle.
“The slaughter of six adults and 20 children really broke the country’s heart, because for many Americans this is the straw that has broken the camel’s back.
“Since the Sandy Hook massacre, you should know that more than 100 mayors from across the country have joined our bipartisan coalition that we created called Mayors Against Illegal Guns. That brings our total number of mayors involved to more than 800.
“And as of this morning, roughly one million Americans have also signed on to our coalition’s ‘I Demand a Plan’ campaign against gun violence. And this week – I hope as soon as tomorrow – Vice President Biden will announce his recommendations for action to the President.
“I’ve spoken with the Vice President numerous times since the Sandy Hook massacre, and he knows that as horrific as Sandy Hook has been, and all the other seemingly endless episodes of mass violence, we experience that level of carnage or worse every single day across our country. Because every day of the year, an average of 33 Americans are murdered with guns.
“Here’s another way to think about what that means. One week from today, President Obama will take the oath of office for his second term. And unless we take action, during those four years some 48,000 Americans will be killed with guns – nearly twice as many people as were killed in combat during the entire Vietnam War.
“When I’ve talked with the Vice President, I have made it very clear that our bipartisan coalition of mayors is supporting seven measures – three that need legislation, and four that require only executive action. And we’re hopeful the Vice President and President will support all seven, and I just wanted to touch on each of them briefly.
“First and most urgently, we need the President and Congress together to require background checks for all gun sales – including private sales at gun shows and online. These private sales now account for more than 40 percent of all gun sales nationally – which means that in 2012 alone, there were more than six million gun sales that happened with no background checks.
“Many of those guns being sold are handguns, which are used in about 90 percent of all firearms murders. Across the United States, more than 80 percent of gun owners, and more than 90 percent of Americans, support requiring background checks for all gun sales.
“So there’s really no debate here. It’s common sense. We have laws on the books that require a background check when dealers sell guns. It’s time for the President and Congress to make that the law of the land for all sales. Forty percent where the law does not apply to means the law is basically a sham.
“Second, Congress should make gun trafficking a Federal crime. In New York City, 85 percent of the weapons that we recover from crime scenes come from out-of-state sources – but Federal laws designed to curb illegal sales across borders are incredibly weak. Criminals who traffic get a slap on the wrist.
“We’ve made New York the safest big city in the nation, in part by adopting tough gun laws and proactively enforcing them. Every state in the Union has citizens killed by guns coming from other another state, and every state is powerless to stop the mayhem. Until Congress gets tough on trafficking, guns will continue flowing to our streets from states with much looser gun laws.
“The third legislative measure that the White House should support is limiting the availability of military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines with more than ten rounds. These guns and equipment are not designed for sport or home defense. They are designed to kill large numbers of people quickly. That’s the only purpose they have.
“They belong on the battlefield, in the hands of our brave professionally trained soldiers, not on the streets of our cities, suburbs, or rural areas, as retired military leaders like Colin Powell and Stanley McChrystal have said.
“Many of the weapons in this category were previously banned under the Federal assault weapons law that expired in 2004, and that was incidentally first initiated and passed by Joe Biden. So he is the right person for the President to have appointed to come up with what we should do next. Regulating assault weapons certainly falls within the bounds of the Second Amendment. So does everything else we’re urging.
“This is not a Constitutional question; it’s a question of political courage. The Supreme Court, the one that defines what the Constitution means and says, has ruled that reasonable regulations are consistent with the Second Amendment.
“So when the gun lobby raises the Second Amendment, it is nothing but a red herring –it’s time for Second Amendment defenders in Congress to call them on it.
“The three measures that I just mentioned – requiring background checks for all gun sales, making gun trafficking a Federal crime, and limiting military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines – will require leadership from both the President and members of Congress.
“But there are other steps that President Obama can take without Congressional approval – at any time he chooses, with the stroke of a pen. Vice President Biden understands this, and we hope his recommendations will include at least these four steps that we’ve urged him to do.
“First, the President can order all Federal agencies to submit the relevant data that they have to the national gun background check database – because every missing record is a potential murder in the making. If the data isn’t in the database, those people that do use the database don’t get what they need, and gun sales can go ahead in cases where we all agree – and Federal law says – they shouldn’t.
“Second, the President can direct the Justice Department to make a priority of prosecuting convicted criminals who provide false personal information during gun purchase background checks. Yes, even criminals go and buy from dealers where they know there’s going to be a background check, except that they lie.
“As a matter of fact, during 2010 there were more than 76,000 cases referred by the FBI to the Justice Department. Do you know how many were prosecuted out of 76,000 in 2010, the last year we have data for? Forty-four. Not 44,000, 44 out of 76,000. This is a joke, and it’s a sad joke, and it’s a lethal joke.
“These are felony cases involving criminals trying to buy guns – and yet our Federal government is prosecuting less than one-tenth of one percent of them. It is shameful, and it has to end, and the President can do it by just picking up the phone and saying to his Justice Department: This is your job, go do it or I’ll get somebody that will.
“Third, the President can make a recess appointment to head the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The ATF, as it’s called, hasn’t had a director for six years. Can you imagine how much outrage there’d be if we’d been without a Homeland Security Secretary for six years?
“This is as much a public safety threat as it would be if there weren’t a Secretary of Homeland Security – and if Congress keeps blocking the ATF appointees, all the President has to do is make a recess appointment. It is relatively easy, and it has been done many times to go around Congress. You can’t have an agency without somebody running it that’s going to do the job that it was created for, and that job is to protect everyone in this room, everybody in this city, state and country – including those that we love the most, our children, and those we have the greatest responsibility to, the police officers who run into danger when the rest of us are running the other way.
“Think about it, if Congress specifically said: Don’t tell the public what’s killing our kids and police officers who are trying to protect us, would you have a problem with that? Of course you would.
“The President, and this is our fourth recommendation, can stop supporting what’s called the Tiahrt order. Tiahrt was a Congressman from Wichita that got the Congress to pass a law that keeps the public in the dark about who gun traffickers are and how they operate. There can be no excuse from shielding criminals from public view.
“At the bidding of the gun lobby, Congress has tied the hands of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms – and has prevented it from releasing critical data to law enforcement authorities and the public. And unfortunately, the ATF is not alone is getting gagged by Congress when it comes to the issue of guns.
“Today, our bipartisan coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns is a releasing a report – called ‘Access Denied’ – detailing how Congress, bowing to the gun lobby, has systematically denied the American people access to information about guns and gun violence.
“Most egregiously and outrageously, Congress has severely restricted the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying the epidemic of gun violence and they’ve put similar restrictions on the scientists at the National Institutes of Health.
“Congress has no business dictating what public health issues scientists can and should study. What are they afraid of?
“You’re sitting here at Johns Hopkins. Our motto is: The truth shall make you free. When elected officials try to muzzle scientific research and bury the truth, they make our free society less free and less safe.
“Today, because of Congressional restrictions, CDC funding for firearms injury research totals $100,000 – out of an annual budget of nearly $6 billion. The National Institutes of Health is estimated to spend less than $1 million on firearms injury research – out of an annual budget of $31 billion.
“To put that in perspective, NIH spends $21 million annually researching headaches. But it spends less than $1 million on all the gun deaths that happen every year. If that doesn’t give you a headache, it should.
“There are 31,000 gun deaths every year in America, including about 19,000 suicides and many of them are children – every parent’s nightmare. In New York City, I’m happy to say – I don’t know that it should be happy, but I guess I’m pleased to say – our suicide rate is less than half the national average, and one of the differences is we have in New York tough gun laws.
“Nationally, 51 percent of suicides are by gun. In New York City, it is only 16 percent of our suicides. The gun lobby callously says that someone who wants to kill him or herself will find a way to do it. In many cases, they are tragically wrong. We can prevent thousands of these senseless suicides with smart gun regulations – and we’re proving it in New York City.
“Unfortunately, American scientists are not the only people Congress has attempted to silence. In 2010, again at the gun lobby’s bidding, Congress included language in a funding a bill that prevented military officers and doctors, as well as mental health counselors, from even discussing firearms ownership with severely depressed service members.
“There is a suicide crisis going on right now, as you’ve read about I’m sure, in our military. It’s tough being overseas. It’s tough seeing and doing what we ask our soldiers to do. We have an all-volunteer army, but they come back and many of them really do have a problem.
“Congress, instead of trying to help, is just doing everything it can to make it worse. Our men and women in uniform deserve better.
“Thankfully, I will say that after mayors and retired military leaders urged Congress to rescind this prohibition, they did – but only last month, and only after too many men and women in uniform have taken their own lives with guns.
“Enough is enough. It’s time for Congress and the White House to put public health above special interest politics. And it’s time for Congress to stop gagging our scientists, military leaders, and law enforcement officers – and stop trying to hide the truth from the American people. That’s why this conference – and your work – is so important.
“And I think it’s very fitting that this conference is being held here at the Bloomberg School of Public Health where so much outstanding and important work is being done, in areas ranging from malaria research and environmental health to tobacco control and road safety.
“It’s all designed to as we say ‘protect health and save lives, millions at a time.’ Reducing gun violence will have that kind of an impact, too.
“So I want to thank Bloomberg School of Public Health Dean Dr. Michael Klag and Dr. Daniel Webster, director of the School’s Center for Gun Policy and Research, for hosting this conference.
“A few years ago, Dr. Webster conducted a study of an initiative we undertook in New York City: identifying the most problematic out-of-state gun dealers, based on crime data, conducting undercover investigations of their sales practices, and suing those that sold guns to our straw purchasers. Stray purchases are those who lie about who is the actual purchaser of the gun and stand in for somebody that could not pass a background check.
“Twenty-four of the most problematic dealers settled or were put under a court monitor. And Dr. Webster found that in New York City the likelihood of recovering a gun at a crime scene from one of these dealers almost overnight dropped by 84 percent. Ninety-nine percent of the gun dealers in our country do obey the law; one percent don’t, and those are the ones that we have to go after. And the results are dramatic and almost instantaneous.
“Our investigation never would have happened without the data that allowed us to identify the problematic dealers. And yet – if it were up to the NRA, we would have never had access to it, and more guns would have flowed onto our streets, and in all likelihood, more people would have been murdered.
“The undercover investigations we’ve conducted were just one example of how we’ve worked to crack down on gun violence.
“At our urging in New York, our State Legislature enacted the toughest penalties in the nation for illegal possession of a handgun: a 3 ½-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. We’ve also worked with our City Council to adopt a law enabling the NYPD to keep tabs on gun offenders in our city – just as they track sex offenders.
“We enforce those laws and other laws rigorously – and that’s a big reason why New York is the safest big city in the country. In the year that just ended, New York City had the fewest murders in nearly half a century when comparable records were started to be kept back in 1963. We’ve never had a year remotely as safe as the year we just had.
“As hard as we’ve worked, however, and as much as we’ve achieved, the reality remains in New York that during 2012 there were still 418 murders in New York City, and a lot of the people that were killed were kids.
“And while shooting incidents are down in New York City, as well as murders, I can tell you that on the Thursday night before last, I visited three NYPD officers who’d been shot by criminals in two separate incidents. Thankfully, the officers are all expected to fully recover. But I think that night really does demonstrate a flaw in the argument we’ve heard lately.
“The argument is that the solution to ‘bad guys with guns is good guys with guns.’ The problem is that sometimes the good guys get shot. Sometimes, in fact, they get killed. And I think the hardest part of my job, the part that I dread the most as mayor is talking to the family of a police officer at a hospital to tell them that their husband, wife, mother, father, son or daughter won’t ever be coming home again.
“The tragic fact is that all across America today, fathers and mothers, wives and husbands, friends and neighbors will experience that kind of pain and loss in their lives because of gun violence, as well.
“The rate of firearms homicides in America is 20 times higher than it is in other economically advanced nations. We have got to change that – and it has to start this week, with real leadership from the White House.
“So if you haven’t done so, go to DemandAPlan.org and join our campaign for gun safety reform, or call your Senators or your Congressmen from the great State of Maryland and say, ‘We’re not going to take this. And even if you vote the right way, your associates in Congress aren’t voting the right way. And since I don’t get a chance to influence them, but you want my vote, you do something about it. It is your responsibility to do it as much as it is the responsibility of the other Senators and the other Congressmen.’
“So thank you for coming to this conference. Your work here really is in the great tradition of your host: the best public health school in the nation, if you pardon me and permit me to say that.
“Let us hope that it gets the attention that Washington needs to pay it. This is one of the real big differences between what we have today and a safe great future for our kids. Thank you and God bless.”
Marc La Vorgna/John J. McCarthy