We have much work to do to turn our despair about gun violence into action, and we’re doing it. I’m writing to update you on two important steps forward: one we took last week, and one we’re taking this week.
Last week, and as I promised last month, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and I, along with our two cities, hosted a daylong Regional Gun Summit in Minneapolis. In the midst of a robust national debate, around 100 participants from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri — mayors and city council members, police chiefs and officers, prosecutors, sheriffs, state and federal law enforcement, judges and advocates, along with national researchers — gathered for an honest conversation to search for Midwestern solutions to gun violence that are rooted in Midwestern values.
We are not new to this work, and it’s important to note that this groundbreaking summit was a year in the making and not a quick reaction to the terrible events of recent months. Every participant at the summit has been engaged in the fight against gun violence for many years, but it was the first time that so many people from our region met face to face to share information, best practices, common opportunities and challenges.
Mayor Barrett framed our motivation in powerful terms: “We are fighting for the freedom of a grandmother to sit on her porch and watch her grandchildren play safely. We are fighting for the freedom of people to attend church on Sunday morning safely.
“Unfortunately, people’s freedoms are being taken away by gun violence and those who commit it. We are fighting to win those freedoms back.”
At the end of a day of vigorous and honest discussion on many topics, we settled on three areas that require action immediately:
1) Congress must amend or end the restrictions on the ability of federal officers to share information about guns with local law enforcement. These limits make it more difficult to solve gun crime and to answer the critical questions, where did the gun come from and who is arming our kids? When a mother asks those questions as she stands over the body of her murdered child, we must be able to answer them for her — but highly politicized congressional regulations still stand in the way.
2) Congress must confirm a permanent director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Some in Congress, aided by pressure from the outside, have kept that critically important agency without a permanent director for almost 10 years — and have kept it chronically underfunded, which has limited the ATF’s ability to collect the data we need to fight illegal guns and solve gun crime.
Nothing should stand between law enforcement and the need to make our communities safer. Frankly, we could save many more lives if politics in Washington would get out of the way and let us do our jobs.
3) We need a coordinated strategy to gather more information about the mental-health challenges that people who buy guns or seek gun licenses may be facing, and to set higher mental-health standards for gun permitting and ownership.
On top of those action items, we committed to even deeper collaboration across our borders between policy makers, law-enforcement partners, advocates and community.
That’s an important thing we did last week. On Wednesday of this week, I will be joining more than 50 other mayors from around the country — who, like me, are members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns — to push Congress to make these sensible reforms. In addition to the ones above, we will be fighting for:
- Requiring a criminal background check for every gun sold in America.
- Making gun trafficking a federal crime, with real penalties for so-called “straw purchasers” who knowingly buy guns for people who are legally barred from doing so.
- Banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. There is no reason on earth for these weapons of war to be on our streets.
I am very encouraged by the effort to put an end to gun violence that Vice President Biden is leading on President Obama’s behalf, and look forward to the White House’s proposal later this month.
We are at a critical juncture and are making progress. Now, I know that if you turn on talk radio or cable news channels, it’s easy to believe that despite all the tragedy around us, nothing will change. But I believe this: the only way that we can guarantee that nothing will happen is if we assume that nothing will happen. And since we have no choice but to make change, we must believe that we will. That’s why we keep pushing forward.
Mayor R.T. Rybak
City of Minneapolis