The numbers are startling.
In the 18 months since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, there have been 74 more school shootings in America. Almost weekly, we hear about shootings at malls, places of worship, and other public settings, where innocent lives are lost and families are destroyed. Yet nothing changes.
Bluntly stated, this is insanity.
Despite the number of lives cut short and the outcry to Washington to do something after the Newtown horror, sadly no action has been taken to help prevent these heinous acts. While Washington is held captive by its inability to protect innocent Americans, at the local level we have decided to bring about a change in gun violence.
Aside from the military, police departments are some of the largest purchasers of guns and ammunition, but local, county and state law enforcement agencies have not taken advantage of their power in the marketplace to demand change from gun manufacturers. We know, however, that money talks, and that when you want to effect change, directing policy toward the pocketbook is a powerful tool.
In Jersey City, we are working to transform the thinking about guns with help from Moms Demand Action, a national nonprofit with local chapters formed after the Newtown tragedy. The organization has representation in 50 states and is a powerful grassroots network working to effect change that will prevent gun violence at the local, state, and national level.
In the past, our police in Jersey City would buy their firearms from a state-approved vendor. We decided to change that process and ask the gun suppliers what we think are a set of important questions. The Jersey City Department of Public Safety is now reviewing the responses to a bid specification to buy new weaponry based on the results of those questions and the accompanying proposals.
We are reshaping the dialogue and hoping to get more municipalities to ask the same questions. While the results may not be immediate, we believe it is important to get the dialogue moving on this issue in a thoughtful way that can produce real impact and send a message to our leaders in Washington.
We asked the gun manufacturers and suppliers to answer these questions:
â€¢ How would you handle any firearms you originally sold to the city if you decided to repurchase them in the future?
â€¢ Do you manufacture and sell assault weapons for civilian use?
â€¢ Do you agree not to sell certain models of firearms for civilian use?
â€¢ Do you require your dealers to conduct background checks?
Our request for proposals was what we believe is a first-of-its-kind policy statement for our expectations of what gun manufacturers owe the American people when it comes to their safety and the safety of their loved ones. Two companies provided answers to our questions. It’s certainly the start of a reasonable discussion, and it shows that gun manufacturers will respond when they are threatened with a loss of business.
The extreme feels differently, and that shows how difficult it is to achieve a rationale policy. When we first announced this plan to ask the gun suppliers these questions as part of the procurement process, I became the subject of an anti-Semitic attack by a National Rifle Association board member, Scott Bach. He said that given my grandparents were Holocaust survivors, he was surprised that I didn’t “get it.” Make no mistake, though. If my grandparents had guns, they would have been killed, and I would never have existed.
It’s comments like these that show how truly out of touch the leadership of the NRA is with 21st-century America. And what is even sadder is that many of our elected officials in Washington listen to this ignorant rhetoric.
However, where there is hate, there also is hope. As Rabbi Joel Mosbacher of Congregation Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Mahwah wrote recently, “We’re putting the gun manufacturers on notice. Forty percent of the guns in this country are purchased by police and the militaryâ€¦. The next time they purchase weapons, they are not only going to consider the technical quality but the social responsibility of the manufacturer.”
Mayors around the country are faced with the same circumstance I face – how do we put an end to the gun violence that is plaguing our communities?
So we are taking every opportunity to discuss this plan with other mayors and elected officials. So far, the response has been good. Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray is interested and is reviewing how this could be implemented in his city. We have heard from other mayors and county officials in New Jersey about their intent to pursue it as well.
According to the Record, other communities, including Oakland, Mahwah, River Vale, and Bloomfield, have joined the initiative. The Record editors wrote of the plan: “Yet its more vocal advocates, such as Fulop and Rabbi Mosbacher, see it as a tactic with real promise, one that could gather steam with time, one that might even change the parameters of the debate. It’s worth a try, because we certainly don’t see any new ideas coming forth from Congress.”
We agree. The time to act is now.
We hope that more mayors and local leaders take similar action or develop additional measures that can send a strong signal to Washington. Doing nothing is no longer acceptable.
Steven Fulop is mayor of Jersey City.