WASHINGTON -- April 5 -- Gun violence victims from five states joined U.S. Senators and U.S. House members today to urge rejection of special interest legislation that would slam courthouse doors across the nation to the victims and survivors of gun crimes.
The nation's leading gun violence prevention organization, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, announced a print and television advertising campaign to stop the legislation, the number one priority of the National Rifle Association (NRA). And the organization's network of Million Mom March chapters have organized a major phone banking campaign this week to urge members of Congress to reject the legislation.
The victims were joined in opposition to the legislation by more than 60 law enforcement leaders and organizations, more than 75 legal scholars from the nation's law schools, two former directors of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and dozens and dozens of other organizations around the country.
The former ATF directors, Stephen Higgins and Rex Davis, served under Presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton. Their letter says they have "grave concern" about the legislation (S. 397/H.R. 800) and particularly new language not in previous similar bills "that threaten to block law enforcement efforts by the ATF, as well as state governments." The new language threatens to block ATF "administrative proceedings" which can lead to the revocation of a gun dealer's federal firearms license and can also block importation of non-sporting firearms used frequently in crimes.
"Not only are the leaders of the House and Senate going to try to pass this after failing last year, but they've made it even worse," said Michael D. Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "It seemed impossible to make it worse, but they have."
Their letter was released at a press conference at which gun violence victims from around the nation told their stories. They were joined by Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Charles Schumer of New York (Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California was unable to attend, but issued a statement), along with Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband and son were shot (her husband fatally) in a shooting on the Long Island Railroad in 1993.
Tom Mauser is the father of Daniel Mauser, who was killed at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. six years ago. "Over the past six years I've learned a lot about how guns get into the wrong hands. One important lesson is that the gun industry is not living up to its responsibilities" Mauser said. "That's why it is complete madness for Congress to tell the industry, with this bill, that it's okay to be irresponsible. We cannot allow the gun industry to be exempt from the responsibilities that everyone else in society must shoulder."
James Ballenger of Louisiana is the widower of Hong Im Ballenger, the first victim of the Washington, D.C. area snipers. He and other family members of sniper victims last fall received a settlement from Bulls Eye Shooter Supply of Tacoma, Wash. and Bushmaster Firearms of Maine after a Washington State judge called the family members' case ready for trial.
"To me this case was not about money - no amount of money can bring back my wife," Mr. Ballenger said. "But our victory sends a powerful message to irresponsible gun sellers - you will be held responsible for your actions. But now Congress wants to immunize 'bad apples' like Bull's Eye. I have come up to Washington, D.C. today to tell Congress not to immunize irresponsible gun sellers."
Berjilio and Juana Hernandez of Massachusetts have a case against Kahr Arms, a Massachusetts gun manufacturer that they allege recklessly hired dangerous employees who took guns off the assembly line before serial numbers were stamped on and sold them to criminals. One of those guns was used to shoot and kill Danny Guzman, Mrs. Hernandez' son and Mr. Hernandez' nephew. Guzman, an innocent bystanger, was shot on Christmas Eve 1999.
The former employee, Mr. Hernandez said, "bragged to a fellow criminal that it was so easy to take guns that he, quote, 'does it all the time, and that (he) can just walk out with them.' And (he) could just walk out with them because Kahr Arms decided not to have even basic security at its plant like security guards, cameras or metal detectors. Dozens of guns disappeared from the Kahr Arms factory. I went to court to hold Kahr Arms accountable for making it so easy for criminals to get guns. Kahr Arms asked the court to throw out my case, but the court said it has merit and should go to trial. But Congress wants to throw this case out of court before I can present my evidence to a jury. That is unfair. All I ask is for my day in court to prove my case. A judge says that's the right thing to do. Congress should do the right thing."
"I want to hold everyone accountable for their actions that lead to the death of my son," said Michael Pavelka, a Los Angeles Police Department detective whose son, a Burbank, Calif. police officer, was shot and killed in the line of duty. "If the investigation reveals that a gun dealer was negligent in supplying these criminals with guns, I want to bring them to justice too. Do not deny me that right."
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence began running print advertising today urging defeat of the legislation. The print ads were to run this week in The Hill and Roll Call newspapers as well as the New York Times and The Washington Post. "Senators, Err on the Side of Life," the print ad reads. "Don't make it easier for killers to get guns." The ad can be viewed at http://www.bradycampaign.org.
The organization will begin airing a television ad tomorrow following a similar theme. The television ad will be available for viewing on the same Web site later today.
"This legislation is a transparent gift to the NRA," said Sarah Brady, chair of the Brady Campaign. "I cannot believe our Congress could advocate for something like this with a straight face."
As the nation's largest national, non-partisan, grassroots organization leading the fight to prevent gun violence, the Brady Campaign, working with its dedicated network of Million Mom March Chapters and grassroots activists, is dedicated to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in their communities.