December 12, 2013
The following are Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s remarks as delivered this morning at City Hall about the anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT and the announcement of the results of a major investigation into online gun sellers:
“We’re here to talk about something serious, and that is that on December 14th we will mark a very somber anniversary.
“Across the nation, Americans will pause, I hope, to remember what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School one year ago when a deranged young man shot his way into the school and proceeded to gun down 26 innocent people; six adults and 20 six and seven-year-old children.
“It’s important that we remember all those we lost – and their families. The anniversary will obviously be a very painful time for them, and a painful time, I think, for all Americans.
“It’s also important to remember that nothing has changed in Washington since Newtown – despite the fact that the vast majority of American people favor basic steps that would help keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, criminals, and other dangerous people.
“During the past 12 months, many Americans have turned the anguish they felt after Sandy Hook into action: Action designed to end the national epidemic of gun violence that in the past year has resulted in the murder of some 12,000 Americans – in big cities, small towns, suburbs, and rural areas.
“And we’ve seen some results. In the past year, the national bipartisan organization that I co-chair, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has worked with legislators and grassroots leaders across the country.
“We’ve helped them, for example, enact State laws that close background check loopholes and keep firearms from falling into the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. The states that have passed those laws include Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, and I’m happy to say New York State.
“The Obama Administration has also taken actions – actions that the Mayors Against Illegal Guns have urged. This year the President, as you know, swore in the first permanent director that the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has had in seven years.
“He also directed the Centers for Disease Control to renew research on gun violence prevention, ending the long shameful freeze on such research caused by pressure from the gun lobby and its Washington allies.
“Nevertheless, as we all know, much more needs to be done. At the top of the list is strengthening the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It’s set up to keep guns from being bought by criminals, the mentally ill, and those with histories of committing domestic violence and other potentially dangerous people.
“The background check system requires gun buyers making purchases from licensed firearms dealers to pass an instant screening test at the point of purchase. But the system is dangerously undermined by a ‘private sale loophole’: A loophole through which, during 2012 alone, some 6.6 million guns sales were made, and a loophole that can be, and is, exploited by criminals every single day of the year.
“It’s also a loophole that ever-expanding sales via Internet web sites makes even more potentially dangerous to innocent people. That reality is brought home by a report being released today by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
“The report is entitled: ‘In the Business, Outside the Law.’ It describes how unlicensed sellers of firearms are flooding the Internet with weapons. The result: A massive online, largely unregulated, secondhand firearms market that threatens the safety of all of us.
“Case in point – and the focus of this report – Armslist.com. It is a web site where unlicensed private gun sellers meet and do business with potential purchasers.
“In September, Mayors Against Illegal Guns issued an earlier report on gun buyers using Armslist. It shows that Armslist alone may be responsible for sales of as many as 25,000 guns a year to people with criminal records.
“We found that one of every 30 ‘want to buy’ ads on the website was put up by someone with a criminal record. Today’s equally disturbing report looks instead of at gun buyers, this one is at gun sellers.
“Many websites offer guns for sale; few match Armslist’s very high sales volume. Based on our review of a seven and a half week period earlier this year, we estimate that the website annually hosts more than three-quarters of a million listings of firearms for sale.
“If they were all merely gun owners making occasional sales from personal collections, that would be legal. But in many cases, that is just not the truth.
“In fact, during the period we monitored the website, some 29 percent of the guns advertised by unlicensed sellers on Armslist were posted by high-volume sellers. By that we mean those sellers placed at least five guns ads – and some placed many more than that.
“Taken together, the high-volume sellers we monitored posted ads for more than 36,000 guns during the period of observation, that seven and a half week period. That is rate of almost 244,000 guns a year.
“And because of the private sale loophole, these guns could change hands no questions asked, with no Federal requirement to conduct a background check of the buyers. What’s more, when our investigators contacted them, some 58 percent of such high-volume sellers gave additional indications that they were actually in the business of selling guns. Such indications as, for example, selling guns that were new or in their original packaging, selling guns at a profit, and buying and then re-selling guns within short periods of time.
“These findings clearly tell us that law enforcement, legislators, and websites themselves all need to take steps to choke off this potentially deadly stream of unregulated firearms sales. That’s just what we’re recommending today.
“For its part, the ATF should enunciate clearly defined standards about what constitutes engaging in the business of selling guns. Then they and Federal prosecutors should target those who break the law by failing to adhere to these standards – and Internet sales clearly merit special attention in this regard.
“Congress needs to require all those engaged in the business of selling guns – including the kind of high-volume private sellers we’ve described today – to comply with the Federal background check law.
“There is simply no reason why this should be a burden on them or on purchasers, but it would save an awful lot of lives – and it could be you, your life, me, my life, or our children’s lives.
“Congress should also pass a gun trafficking statute that would hold private sellers who knowingly transfer guns to prohibited persons accountable before the law.
“Finally, Armslist and other online marketplaces must do a better job of self-policing. As our report points out, a number of websites have already taken self-regulating steps. We commend them strongly for that.
“Like them, we recognize the Second Amendment right to bear arms. We also firmly believe that commonsense gun laws protect the American people.
“Finally, this is the last report that Mayors Against Illegal Guns is issuing during our tenure as mayor. Rest assured that our work to pass sensible gun laws that keep firearms out of the hands of criminals, and end the epidemic of gun violence in our nation, will go on. We will keep fighting. Maybe we’ll keep fighting even harder, we’ll have a little more time to focus on this.
“In something less than seven years’ time, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has grown from a founding core of 15 mayors – and former Mayor Tom Menino of Boston deservers an enormous amount of the credit – to now include more than 1,000 mayors representing tens of millions of people from coast to coast.
“Our actions and investigative reports, like today’s – and like previous ones that have exposed the dangers of unregulated sales of guns online and at gun shows – have materially changed the national conversation on gun safety.
“We’ve worked with the world’s largest retailer and the nation’s largest seller of firearms, Wal-Mart, to develop policies to keep guns out of the wrong hands. And we’ve worked with Congress to stop concealed carry ‘reciprocity’ legislation which would have been devastating to our big cities.
“Our Administration has also taken bold, innovative, and highly successful steps, as you know, to stop the flow of guns onto our streets. They include our pioneering undercover investigation and suits of out-of-state rogue gun dealers.
“Today, I do want to take a moment to thank the mayors who are part of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, our grassroots supporters, and everyone who has done this vital work. In particular, I want to thank the family members of men and women who’ve lost their lives to gun violence for standing up with us, to tell their stories and describe their pain.
“It takes a great deal of courage to do that and it means more to us than I can ever say, but my children and your children are safer because of them.
“So has the work of the man who has spearheaded these efforts: Our Administration’s Chief Policy Advisor, John Feinblatt.”
Marc La Vorgna / Kamran Mumtaz (212) 788-2958