Many Of Nation's Mayors Receptive To Obama's Ideas On Reducing Gun Violence

The Obama administration pushed forward on its agenda of legislative and executive action to fight gun violence on Thursday. Vice President Joe Biden addressed the U.S. Conference of Mayors, who were a receptive audience.

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The Obama administration is pushing forward with its ambitious, if uphill, effort to reduce gun violence. I will put everything I've got into this, the president said, when he outlined his agenda yesterday. Today, Vice President Joe Biden addressed the nation's mayors at their winter meeting here in Washington. And NPR's Brian Naylor reports, the mayors, who deal with the effects of gun violence every day, made a receptive audience.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The nation's consciousness about gun violence has been raised in recent months by the killing of 20 first-graders in Newtown, Connecticut, and 12 moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. But it's the gun violence that occurs each day on city street corners that is the prime concern of the nation's mayors. Vice President Biden framed the issue this way.

VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Over the last several years, about 25 people die of gun-related homicide in this country every single day, every day, which is the equivalent of the third most deadly mass shooting in history.

NAYLOR: Biden renewed the administration's pitch for its agenda to overhaul the nation's gun laws. He touched on many things - what he termed the woefully incomplete system by which mental health records are reported and the so-called gun show loophole, which allows some gun buyers to bypass background checks entirely.

BIDEN: Imagine you get to the airport and there are two lines for security. One of them, you have to go through the metal detector, empty your pockets, take off your shoes. And the other one, you can go straight through to the plane. Where are you going to go, especially if you're carrying something you're not supposed to?

NAYLOR: Biden acknowledged there were disagreements about the precise steps to take, but said, in his words, we can't wait any longer to act. In that there's little disagreement among the mayors who are on the front lines of gun violence. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER: Many of us deal with these kinds of issues on a day-to-day basis. It may not be 20 children in a school. But in Philadelphia last year, unfortunately, I had 331 murders throughout the course of the year. That's a whole lot of people.

NAYLOR: Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James says his city averages just over a hundred murders a year, 80 percent of whom are young black men. He says there's little he can do to stem gun violence because he's handcuffed.

MAYOR SYLVESTER JAMES: Our city can't act on the issue of guns at all. The state has pre-empted the area with their laws, and the only people who can preempt the state is the federal government. We, as a city, have to deal with the murders and the weapons and the illegal guns on the street. We have absolutely no ability to control them.

NAYLOR: James says what he calls slow motion mass murder has been going on in the nation's cities for years. But Mayor Scott Smith of Mesa, Arizona, where guns are an accepted part of the culture, says the administration is too focused on what he called the faux solution of more gun control.

MAYOR SCOTT SMITH: The people I represent are law-abiding citizens who are exercising their Second Amendment rights. So they're a little miffed as to why they, individually - and they take this personally - are being concentrated on and saying somehow they must give up their rights so we can solve another problem. That - I think that's a legitimate concern of people.

NAYLOR: Smith says there needs to be more of a focus on why young men think they can solve a dispute by killing someone and preventing the dangerously mentally ill from acquiring guns. But that's clearly not the priority of many in the mayors group, which is already on record in favor of banning assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines and wants Congress to act quickly on the administration's agenda. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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