NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – New York’s two U.S. senators have called for sweeping crackdowns on illegal guns and enhanced background checks to be included in final recommendations made by a federal gun safety task force later this month.
President Obama announced the creation of the task force to prevent gun violence just days after the Newtown, Conn. school massacre.
Obama tapped longtime gun control advocate Vice President Joe Biden to lead the effort to come up with sensible gun control reforms, the president announced.
Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have appealed to the Obama administration to prevent illegal guns from being brought to New York and make it far more difficult for the mentally handicapped and criminals to obtain firearms, while protecting law-abiding gun owners.
The senators’ appeal comes just days after three NYPD officers were shot. The sister of one of the suspects, who was killed by police, said her brother Peter Jourdan was mentally ill and should not have been able to acquire a weapon.
“If you want the three best reasons why we should pass these laws, here they are: Officer Juan Pachardo, Officer Michael Levay, Officer Lukasz Kozicki,” Schumer told reporters including WCBS 880′s Alex Silverman.
All three officers were shot within an hour in two separate incidents Thursday night, and the guns in each case came from out of state, Schumer said.
“The absense of a single federal law defining gun trafficking in this country is shocking to me,” Gillibrand said.
Senator Schumer added that gun trafficking was a particularly troublesome issue in states along I-95.
“I stood before many of you fifteen years ago and labeled I-95 the firearms freeway, because the vast majority, eighty-five to ninety-percent of our guns that are used in crimes come from out-of-state,” he said.
It is estimated that 40 percent of gun sales are conducted without a background check, according to the gun control lobbying group the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Biden’s team will include members of the Obama administration and outside groups. The departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security will all be part of the process.
Proposals are likely to include a renewal of the assault weapons ban that was allowed to expire in 2004, a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, and requiring background checks for all gun sales. Right now, only about 60 percent of sales are scrutinized.
“The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing,” Obama said in a news conference announcing the creation of the task force on Dec. 19. “The fact that we can’t prevent every act of violence doesn’t mean we can’t steadily reduce the violence.”
Appealing to gun owners, Obama said he believes in the Second Amendment and the country’s strong tradition of gun ownership. And he said “the vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible.”
Obama’s announcement underscores the urgency the White House sees in formulating a response to the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown where 20 children and six adults were killed by gunman Adam Lanza, 20, who was carrying an arsenal of ammunition and a high-powered, military-style rifle.
The guns were all purchased legally by Lanza’s mother and he had been to the shooting range with her in the past.
The massacre has prompted several congressional gun rights supporters to consider new legislation to control firearms and there is some concern that their willingness to engage could fade as the shock and sorrow over the Newtown shooting eases.
Obama said it was “encouraging” to see people of different backgrounds and political affiliations coming to an understanding that the country has an obligation to prevent such violence.
Many pro-gun lawmakers also have called for a greater focus on mental health issues and the impact of violent entertainment. Obama also prefers a holistic approach, with aides saying stricter gun laws alone are not the answer.
The president of the National Rifle Association announced the powerful lobbying group will launch its own task force focused on putting an armed guard in every public school in America.
The idea was hit with harsh criticism from both sides of the aisle, but the NRA stood by its call for more guns.
Meantime, several state senators say new gun safety measures will be a priority when they return to Albany this week following the Newtown school shooting.
Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Sen. Catharine Young, a Republican from Olean, say any legislative agreement should include a stronger version of Kendra’s Law, authorizing court-ordered mental health treatment for individuals who won’t seek help but are deemed to be a safety threat.
Sen. Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat who heads the Independent Democratic Conference, says after meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo they are in agreement they need “to do everything possible to ban assault weapons in New York,” as well as ban high-capacity magazines and make sure people with serious mental health issues don’t possess guns.
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