As they witness the devastation of crime up close, mayors across the state and nation are scrambling to promote gun policy changes that make sense.
But even among mayors, there is little consensus about what that means.
Cloyd Wagner, the mayor of Beavertown in Snyder County, said he joined Mayors Against Illegal Guns because the group sent him an invitation at a time when he felt his borough, population 965, was being overrun by drug gangs.
Wagner said he supports efforts to make it easier to trace guns used in crimes.
Wagner said he has no objection to background checks. But, he feels like, due to the influence of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the mayors’ organization is veering toward positions that he does not endorse.
“I intend to withdraw from Mayors Against Illegal Guns,” Wagner said. “I am against illegal guns. But they are pushing the envelope.”
Bloomberg is the chief source of funding for the mayors’ group, which announced this week that it would begin generating scorecards of legislative records to counter rankings compiled by the National Rifle Association.
At the urging of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the mayor of Farrell, Oliver McKeithan, called together an impromptu rally in favor of gun-control legislation. That event was held primarily to gather signatures for petitions supporting the universal background legislation being considered in the U.S. Senate.
Meadville Mayor Christopher Soff said he endorses universal background checks.
“I do not have a problem with universal background checks for all gun purchases, regardless of where or how the guns are purchased,” Soff said. Let’s just make sure we severely penalize those who violate the law so we can deter the bad behavior of the few, instead of punishing the many who are doing it correctly.”
Lancaster Mayor J. Richard Gray leads Mayors Against Illegal Guns in Pennsylvania and stood alongside Democratic lawmakers and Attorney General Kathleen Kane to lobby for universal background checks.
The Lancaster mayor said that he has seen the devastation of gun violence up close.
“I’ve attended the funerals,” he said, describing the death of a 7-year-old young girl shot in the cross-fire of gang violence while visiting York.
Gun violence “is a suburban-rural problem,” Gray said.
Gray noted that the Nickle Mines shooting in which five people and the gunman were killed at an Amish schoolhouse happened near his hometown.
Gray said that data is hard to come by to justify the need for expanded background checks. But the absence of data does not justify inaction, he said.
“There might be hundreds of people saved,” he said. “Don’t ask me to prove a negative.”