Following Obama's Call, Tucson Shooting Victims' Families Endorse Plan to Fix U.S. Gun Background Check System

Mar 28, 2011, 16:00 ET from Mayors Against Illegal Guns

For the First Time Since Tucson Tragedy, Arizona Families and Civic Leaders Endorse Legislative Fix, Join More Than 250,000 Americans to Support Closing Loopholes That Allow Dangerous People Easy Access to Guns

83% of Arizonans, including 75% of Gun Owners, Support Instant Background Checks for All Gun Purchasers

Father of Gabe Zimmerman, Law Enforcement Leaders, Elected Officials Point to 2,680 Americans Killed with Guns since Tucson to Fix Gun Checks

Follow the Fix Gun Checks Campaign and Mobile Truck Team at

NEW YORK, March 28, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Two weeks after President Obama signaled his support for "instant, accurate and comprehensive" background checks for U.S. gun buyers, victims and families of Arizonans slain in the deadly January 8 shooting endorsed legislation to require instant background checks for all gun sales and improve the national do-not-sell database.

The announcement today at a press conference in Tucson's Jacome Plaza marked the first time a group of Arizonans affected by the Tucson tragedy endorsed a specific policy change in the wake of the mass shooting.  

"On January 8th, my son Gabe was taken from me by the actions of a mentally ill man who never should have been allowed to purchase a gun," said Ross Zimmerman, father of Gabe Zimmerman, Giffords' Director of Community Outreach who was killed in the Tucson shooting.  "I support the Fix Gun Checks legislation because it will improve the submission of names of prohibited purchasers, such as the severely mentally ill, into the background check system and require colleges and universities to develop a mental health assessment plan to improve student access to mental health services.  Enacting this legislation will help prevent other families from experiencing the terrible loss that we have suffered."

"The Fix Gun Checks Act is a common sense step that will help save innocent lives," said Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of trauma at University Medical Center. "I believe that a background check system that is thorough, effective and that applies to every gun buyer will help to keep the streets safer, and keep innocent people out of my operating room. This plan will do that by getting all the right records into the background check database and requiring a background check on all gun sales. In my view, this proposal deserves broad support, and as a doctor who has seen and treated many gunshot wounds, I think it is overdue."

"What happened on the 8th of January was a shock and a tragedy for all of us in Tucson and Arizona, as well as the rest of the country," said Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor.  "It was senseless and it was devastating.  And it raises questions about the state of gun laws in this country.  That's why I support legislation to address the loopholes that currently exist.  We need to place all the records of prohibited purchasers into the system and require a background check for every gun sale.  Most background checks only take a few minutes.  As a law enforcement officer, I strongly support the Second Amendment and know that any American would gladly take a few minutes out of their day to save a life.  Let's make something positive out of this senseless tragedy and fix our background check system."

More than 250,000 Americans have signed a petition calling on President Obama and Congress to fix the gun background check system. On Monday, supporters delivered petitions bearing the names of 6,784 Arizonans to the offices of U.S. Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl.

The proposal was first developed by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan coalition of more than 550 mayors who advocate firearms policies that respect the rights of law-abiding citizens while keeping guns away from criminals and other dangerous people.  The plan has been introduced as The Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011 in the U.S. Senate and will soon be introduced in the House. 

The proposal was crafted in the wake of the Tucson rampage that killed six and wounded 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.  The Arizona shooter, Jared Loughner, was an admitted habitual drug user – a fact that led the U.S. Army to reject him and should have barred him from owning guns under current law.  Loughner's records, however, were never sent to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database.

Arizona voters – including gun owners – overwhelmingly support attempts to close loopholes in the background check system.  A survey conducted for the mayors' coalition in February showed that 83% of Arizonans, including 75% of gun owners, support instant background checks for all buyers.  The poll was conducted by American Viewpoint, a firm that advised the McCain-Palin '08 campaign.

"If it weren't for the quick actions of courageous citizens and skilled medical care professionals, the death toll from the devastating January shooting might have been even higher," said former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard.  "I strongly support the Second Amendment but I also know that respecting the Second Amendment means stopping dangerous people from being able to purchase guns.  I call on Congress to reform our background check system immediately so that we can prevent future tragedies like the one we faced here in Tucson."

"Having called Tucson home for more than 40 years, the shooting here affected me deeply," said former Tucson Mayor Tom Volgy.  "It also highlighted serious problems with our national background check database.  I strongly support the legislation to Fix Gun Checks."

"Like all Americans, I value our shared constitutional rights, and I strongly support the Second Amendment," said former U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini. "I also believe it's possible to honor and protect our rights while keeping guns away from criminals.  That's why I urge my former colleagues in Washington to support the Fix Gun Checks Act, pass it quickly and get it to President Obama for his signature. We can't wait for another tragedy before acting to ensure that all the records are in the background check system, and that background checks apply to all gun sales."

"Having served the Tucson community for 22 years as an elected official, including eight years as mayor, I was particularly horrified when I learned that a mentally ill man had assaulted Gabby's meeting with her constituents, many of whom I know personally," said former Tucson Mayor George Miller.  "It's clear that Jared Loughner never should have been allowed to purchase a gun. The Fix Gun Checks Act will ensure that dangerous individuals like Loughner are prevented from purchasing a gun by beefing up the background check system."

"Our faith teaches us that all life is sacred, and we have made it our mission to honor that tradition," said Rev. Jan Flaaten, Executive Director of the Arizona Ecumenical Council.  "What happened on that tragic morning in Tucson, and what happens every day with gun violence in our communities, does not need to happen.  That is why I support the work of this coalition to protect the peace and help save lives by keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous and unstable individuals."

"As a law enforcement official, I know firsthand how important it is to have a federal gun background check system that has accurate information on the people who are prohibited from possessing firearms," said Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.  "For the system to work as it should, we need to have all the records in the database, and background checks must apply to all gun sales.  That's why I fully support the legislation to Fix Gun Checks, which will protect my deputy sheriffs and all law enforcement officers by helping to stop someone like Jared Loughner from purchasing a gun."

"On January 8th, as I stood in line waiting to speak with Rep. Gabby Giffords, Jared Loughner, a young man with some seemingly severe mental health issues who tragically fell through the cracks of a broken mental health system, suddenly opened fire, shooting me and 18 others," said Tucson shooting survivor Randy Gardner.  "I am fortunate that my physical wounds have largely healed, but the tragic memory of that day will stay with me for the rest of my life.  I support the Fix Gun Checks legislation because I know firsthand how important it is to input the mental health records of prohibited purchasers into the system and require a background check for every gun sale.  Who wouldn't support legislation that could have prevented Jared Loughner from being able to purchase a gun in the first place?"

A complete list of attendees at Monday's event is at bottom.

The Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition wants to increase incentives for states to send records of people who are legally barred from buying guns to the federal do-not-sell database.  These "prohibited purchasers" include criminals, drug abusers, domestic violence offenders and the seriously mentally ill.  The mayors would also require all gun buyers to pass an instant background check. 

Arizona has some of the weakest gun laws in the country and is one of only four states to allow individuals to carry guns without a permit.  The state has sent only 5,036 records to the NICS database, leaving an estimated 121,700 Arizona records yet to be submitted.  

In a March 13 Arizona Daily Star column, President Obama said the nation needs "an instant, accurate, comprehensive and consistent system for background checks to sellers who want to do the right thing, and make sure that criminals can't escape it."

The Fix Gun Checks Campaign

On February 16, the bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition launched the "Fix Gun Checks Truck Tour," a mobile billboard traveling across the country to call attention to glaring problems in the U.S. gun background check system.

The "Fix Gun Checks Truck Tour" is part of an online advocacy campaign,, that includes an online petition encouraging citizens to join the call to improve the do-not-sell system. 

The truck is led by Omar Samaha, whose sister Reema was killed at the mass shooting at Virginia Tech.  Samaha is meeting with mayors, elected officials, families of victims and others on the truck's two-month journey across America.

The Background Check System is Broken

The U.S. gun background check system is riddled with holes that enable dangerous people to slip through the cracks and purchase guns. 

Millions of records on prohibited purchasers are missing from the NICS database.  In April 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, who had a history of serious mental illness, was able to pass a background check and buy the firearms he used to kill 32 people at Virginia Tech because records of his mental illness had never been submitted to NICS. 

Jared Loughner, the Tucson shooter, was disqualified from military service after he admitted that he was a habitual drug user, which should have barred him from buying firearms.  The Army never submitted information about his drug abuse to the background check system.

In the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy, Congress passed the NICS Improvement Amendment Act, which was intended to incentivize states to submit records of prohibited gun purchasers – including felons, drug abusers, domestic violence offenders and the mentally ill – into the system.  Congress, however, has chronically failed to provide enough funding for these efforts, and has not imposed tough penalties for noncompliance. 

Almost four years after Virginia Tech, ten states have not submitted any mental health records to NICS, and 18 states have submitted fewer than 100 records.

Even if the NICS system had contained the necessary records to flag Cho and Loughner as prohibited purchasers, the shooters could have easily bought their guns from a private seller.  Under current federal law, all federally licensed gun dealers are required to conduct background checks on gun purchasers.  But private "occasional sellers" who sell firearms at gun shows, through classified ads, in parking lots or on the Internet may sell guns without conducting checks.  Private sales account for an estimated 40% of all gun sales in the United States. 

Two Simple Solutions: Send the Records, Close the Gaps

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) recently introduced the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011 (S.436), legislation that would make vital improvements to the national gun background checks system.  Based on a proposal first developed by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the bill would take two critical steps to stop prohibited purchasers from slipping through cracks in current law.

First, the Fix Gun Checks Act would impose tougher penalties on states that do not comply with laws that require them to send their records on prohibited purchasers to the NICS system. 

Today, states that fail to report to the NICS database 50 percent or more of their records on individuals who are not allowed to buy firearms face a maximum three percent cut in their Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) funding.  The Fix Gun Checks Act would increase the reporting requirement to 75 percent by FY2013 and 90 percent by FY2018.  The amount of JAG funding states could lose would increase to 15 percent and 25 percent, respectively. 

In addition, federal agencies would be required to certify to the U.S. Attorney General twice every year that they have submitted all relevant records to the NICS database.

Second, the Fix Gun Checks Act would require a background check for every gun sale.  The bill would require private sellers to verify, either with local law enforcement or through certified gun dealers that the person they are selling to is not on the national do-not-sell list.  The bill would include reasonable exceptions, including sales to law enforcement and transfers among immediate family members.

Attendees at Monday's Fix Gun Checks Press Conference

Tucson shooting victims and others in attendance:  Ross Zimmerman (father of slain Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman), James Fuller, Randy Gardner, Patricia Maisch (who stopped Loughner from reloading).

Attendees included the following Arizona civic leaders: Terry Goddard (former Arizona Attorney General, 2010 candidate for Governor), Dennis DeConcini (former U.S. Senator), Sheriff Clarence Dupnick (Pima County Sheriff), Tom Volgy (former mayor of Tucson), City Councilmember Regina Romero, City Councilmember Paul Cunningham, City Councilmember Karin Uhlich, Reverend Jan Flaaten, Executive Director of Arizona Ecumenical Council, staff for U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, Sheriff Tony Estrada (Santa Cruz County) and Dr. Peter Rhee (Chief of Trauma at University Medical Center) and Pastor David Wilkinson (Sr. Pastor at Saint Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church, where several victims are congregants).

About Mayors Against Illegal Guns

Since its inception in April 2006, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has grown from 15 mayors to more than 550.  The coalition has united the nation's mayors around these common goals: protecting their communities by holding gun offenders and irresponsible gun dealers accountable, demanding access to trace data that is critical to law enforcement efforts to combat illegal gun trafficking, and working with legislators to fix gaps, weaknesses and loopholes in the law that make it far too easy for criminals and other prohibited purchasers to get guns.

SOURCE Mayors Against Illegal Guns