Nearly 90 Ohio mayors this week co-signed a letter sent to Sen. Rob Portman’s office urging him to reconsider his opposition to background checks for all gun purchases in commercial settings.
“We are calling on you to join us and stand with the overwhelming majority of your constituents who support this tough-on-crime measure, and to help protect our communities from the scourge of gun violence that claims 33 Americans each and every day in this country,” they wrote in the letter, obtained by MSNBC.
The communities’ leaders said they see “grisly consequences” firsthand in their neighborhoods, and the Senate’s failure to pass bipartisan background checks legislation earlier this year “temporarily dashed” their hopes for the future. They sent the message, led by Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, to the Ohio Republican senator’s office Tuesday.
“We need the support of the Senate and Congress to help us with the proliferation of guns in people’s hands who should not have them,” Coleman told MSNBC. “This does not impact the Second Amendment in any way whatsoever because I, along with every other mayor [who signed the letter], support the right to bear arms.”
The mayors haven’t received a response from Portman’s office yet, but Coleman said he is “hopeful” the senator will change his point of view and consequently save lives.
“Sen. Portman is eager to work with anyone willing to support legislation that has a proven track record of breaking the cycle of violence,” Caitlin Dunn, a spokesperson for the senator, said Wednesday in an e-mailed statement to MSNBC.
He hopes for the mayors’ future support in authorizing other various efforts, including the Neighborhood Safety Act that helps communities demolish vacant structures serving as havens for crime, Dunn wrote.
Portman voted in April against the proposed law that would have made it more difficult to buy guns from private sellers and on the Internet. The bipartisan amendment, which failed in the Senate 54-46, was led by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and former National Rifle Association ally Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia.
The leaders who sent the letter belong to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which on the six-month anniversary of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., launched a 100-day nationwide bus tour that will visit 25 states. Since June, the No More Names bus tour, soon nearing its end, has urged members of Congress to pass gun-control laws. Many of the stops along the route are in states where senators voted against the Manchin-Toomey amendment.
The tour recently made three stops in Ohio–Cincinnati, Columbus, and Akron–to encourage Portman to reconsider his position on background checks. The visits prompted him to issue a statement last week asking city officials to work with him to enforce current laws, add improved mental health records, and address the drug problem and gangs escalating crime.
“Legislation to expand background checks to private sales would have no meaningful impact on the unacceptable level of daily gun violence on the streets of Columbus and other places in Ohio,” he said in the statement issued on Aug. 13. He added that the proposed expansion of background checks for online and private firearms sales wouldn’t have prevented past shootings, such as the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.
“I’m not focused on the politics of it. I’m focused on what will actually help to reduce gun violence and make our communities safer,” he said.
Members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns have been present at almost every stop on the tour. Participants recently thanked senators in Minnesota for voting in favor of the amendment, and encouraged Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Max Baucus of Montana–who both voted against background checks–to reevaluate their gun-control positions.
“We just need change,” Coleman said. “We need support of commons sense gun laws.”