Purcellville Mayor Bob Lazaro is joining more than 800 mayors across the country in pressing for Washington to act on gun violence.
Lazaro on New Year’s Eve announced he has joined the Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) coalition, a bipartisan group co-founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino in 2006 with just 15 mayor members. In addition to the city and town leaders, more than 900,000 supporters have signed on to the call for more gun control measures, “making it the largest gun violence prevention advocacy organization in the country,” according to Lazaro’s office.
The group is calling for Congress to pass laws requiring every gun buyer in the U.S. to pass a criminal background check; making gun trafficking a federal crime; and banning military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines..
“In the wake of the shooting in Newtown, and as a father and as an uncle, signing on to this was a no-brainer,” Lazaro told the Times-Mirror Wednesday.
On Dec. 14, a gunman shot and killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. The massacre was the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, behind only the 2007 killing spree at Virginia Tech University that left 33 people, including the shooter, dead.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns (http://www.MayorsAgainstIllegalGuns.org) launched the Demand a Plan campaign (http://www.DemandAPlan.org) as a collaborative effort to plea for Congress to act and debate the issue of firearms. The organization points to massacres like Newtown, Virginia Tech and others, and the stat that an average of 33 people in America will die from guns each day, as evidence stronger gun control measures are needed.
The National Rifle Association (NRA), with its strong lobby and relatively well-unified membership, has dismissed the notion that less guns are the solution The association has long opposed more stringent gun control.
“The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” NRA President Wayne LaPierre said in December following the Connecticut shooting.
Leesburg Mayor Kristen Umstattd said that, while she would consider signing the MAIG petition, the measures touched on by the organization largely gloss over the issues raised by the Newtown killings.
“Sadly missing from the MAIG action plan is any mention of the need to enhance security in our schools and how we will pay for that,” Umstattd said via email. “The NRA has immense fundraising abilities and needs to put them to use in raising money for school systems that need to upgrade their security. As a Life Member of the NRA, I would hope that the organization will take school security as seriously as it takes political campaigns.”
While Umstattd said she has “tremendous respect for Lazaro,” the Leesburg mayor noted that the guns used in the Newtown killings were legally purchased and owned. Combating gun violence is about more than just pushing for the removal of illegal guns; it’s about parents accepting responsibility for their children, the enforcement of responsible guns laws already in place and better treating and reporting mental illness, Umstattd said.
“Also missing from the MAIG action plan is any mention of the severe shortage of resources available to families who have mentally disturbed individuals in their homes. These families are left to fend for themselves with no effective level of government support,” the Leesburg mayor noted.
Asked whether she had any concerns over gun safety in Leesburg, Umstattd said “of course.”
“[Leesburg is] a safe community with active police involvement in our schools and our community, but Newtown would have been considered safe also,” Umstattd said. “All it takes is one disturbed individual and any community is vulnerable to a horrific tragedy.”
In Virginia, no state permit is required to purchase or possess a rifle, shotgun or handgun. The state’s so-called “gun show loophole,” in which people can purchase firearms at private gun shows without a background check, has been heavily criticized in the weeks since the Newtown shooting.
Lazaro agreed that reducing gun violence is about more than just controlling guns, mentioning personal responsibility and adequate mental health care as other important points. Still, in a heavily “pro-gun state like Virginia, there needs to be people willing to have conversations about limiting gun violence.”
“[The Newtown shooting] was a horrific, horrific disaster,” Lazaro said. “We have to come together to address it.”
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