NEW YORK – Two U.S. mayors who are all too familiar with the toll of gun violence on city streets — Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter — found a venue to voice their frustration here Wednesday.
“We are in an epidemic of violence traced to guns,” Rybak said during a roundtable for newspaper editors organized by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Center on Media, Crime and Justice.
Rybak described the 2002 shooting death of Tyesha Edwards, the 11-year-old Minneapolis girl who was killed by a stray bullet while doing her homework at her dining-room table, and Brian Cole, the 18-year-old North High School basketball star killed in 2006 when a drive-by shooter opened fire on a crowd at a Juneteenth festival.
Nutter said that guns can be “rented” in his city today, and that drug dealers use weapons as “sweeteners” when bargaining with buyers.
The two mayors were critical of gun manufacturers for standing in the way of beefed-up gun regulation and not being willing to bring new safety technology to market.
Mossberg & Sons, the gun manufacturer located about 30 miles from Newtown, Conn., spent about $1 million trying to perfect grip-pressure technology to make guns safer, but the so-called smart guns were far from reliable for self-defense and focus groups were negative, according to Joe Bartozzi, the company’s general counsel.
“It’s easier said than done,” Bartozzi said during a heated exchange in which both Rybak and Nutter challenged manufacturers to take a chance on new technology that might save lives. “Put one on the market and see what happens,” Nutter said.
Bartozzi, who also serves on the board of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said the key to reducing gun violence is keeping guns from falling into the “wrong hands,” and he urged a greater focus on mental health.
He also said that gun manufacturers support increased funding for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), whose inspectors regulate licensed gun dealers, but Rybak countered that the ATF has suffered from an aggressive industry campaign to “defang” the agency.
A Star Tribune series on illegal gun trafficking published in March found that the ATF’s Minnesota office has among the fewest inspectors in the nation for its 2,600 gun dealers — about one inspector for every 330 — even though illegal trafficking among licensed sellers is a major source of weapons found in crimes.
Both Rybak and Nutter renewed calls for expanded background checks for gun buyers, and the Minneapolis mayor questioned why guns-rights lobbyists appear to be dictating terms to lawmakers.
“Congress has to buck up to protect kids,” Rybak told editors.
Scott Gillespie is the Star Tribune’s editorial page editor. His participation in the New York seminar was funded by the John Jay College Center on Media, Crime and Justice.