Michael Nutter is mayor of Philadelphia and the second vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
At Fort Hood, Texas, on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, and at a workplace shooting in Manchester, Conn., the killers all had weapons with large-capacity magazines. And then came Tucson last month. A 9-year-old girl and a federal judge were among six people killed. Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was among the 13 injured. [Photos from the aftermath of the Giffords shooting.]
We as a society will always confront evil in the heart and sickness in the mind. Bad people will do bad things, but we can and must take steps to deny these criminals the weapons of mass destruction that have ripped apart families across the country. While the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that Americans have a right to keep a gun in the home for self-defense, the court has also upheld laws prohibiting possession of guns by felons or the mentally ill.
President Obama has called for "common sense" regulation. Regulating magazine size is surely common sense. Large-capacity magazines can turn a semiautomatic pistol into a weapon of mass destruction, with some spitting out six shots per second. These are not a hunter's weapons. They are meant to hurt or kill as many people as quickly as possible. Only law enforcement and the military should have access to this kind of firepower. [See which members of Congress get the most in campaign contributions from gun rights groups.]
In the wake of the Tucson tragedy, where the gunman used a 33-round magazine, New York Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed and son seriously wounded in the terrible assault on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993, introduced legislation that would prohibit the transfer or possession of new large-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. This bill will not solve our nation's gun violence problems, but it will help, and in the long run, it will save lives. The U.S. Conference of Mayors strongly supports this bill and New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg's sponsorship of similar legislation in the Senate. [Take the U.S. News poll: should more Congressman carry guns for protection?]
Since May 2006, eight Philadelphia police officers have been killed in the line of duty, six by gunfire. One, Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski, was felled by an assault weapon. Across the state in Pittsburgh, three police officers were killed in April 2009 by a man armed with an assault rifle and two other guns. In an urban environment, weapons fitted out with large-capacity magazines are in fact weapons of mass destruction.
Some will argue that the magazines are used in sporting competitions or are necessary for defensive purposes at home. The plain truth is that a magazine with 10 bullets, which the McCarthy bill would allow, is more firepower than our Founding Fathers might have imagined and more than enough to guard one's castle.
Beyond halting the ever-increasing arms buildup by bringing common sense back to our regulation of these large-capacity magazines, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has called on Congress to fund fully the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. Mentally ill people such as the gunman at Virginia Tech or the drug-abusing defendant in the Tucson massacre should not have been able to purchase weapons. [Read more about gun control and gun rights.]
The Mayors Against Illegal Guns group, of which I'm a member, has called for a fully funded NICS to help states cover the costs of gathering records. And we need to clarify the definition of mentally ill people so that individuals like the alleged Tucson shooter, who was too sick to gain readmission to school but was able to buy a gun, can be stopped.
Read NRA executive director for legislative action Chris Cox on why high-volume ammo clips should not be banned.