Purcellville Mayor Robert W. Lazaro Jr. is the newest Virginia member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national bipartisan coalition dedicated to combating gun violence across the nation.
In the wake of the horrific mass shootings last month at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Lazaro anno
unced Dec. 31 that he had joined the coalition, which was established in 2006 and includes more than 700 mayors from across the country, according to the organization. Lazaro is the first Loudoun County mayor to join.
Mayors from seven other Virginia localities — Alexandria, Ashland, Charlottesville, Norfolk, Petersburg, Richmond and Virginia Beach — are among the coalition members, according to the group.
Lazaro said he was inspired to join the coalition after the mass shootings in Aurora and Newtown last year, which prompted horrified reactions across the nation and sparked an immediate and often vitriolic debate over gun control measures. In Virginia, a record-breaking number of gun permit applications were filed in the week after the Newtown killings by would-be owners who feared the weapons might become unavailable.
“You have one side saying, ‘Take everyone’s guns away,’ and the other side saying ‘arm everybody,’ ” Lazaro said. “I think there’s a middle ground and room for some common sense.”
Lazaro noted that coalition members include Democrats, Republicans and independents representing large cities — New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino are co-chairmen of the coalition — as well as small towns. Although their backgrounds and political views often differ, Lazaro said, there is a common goal: to call on Washington leaders to take meaningful action to help curb the cycle of gun violence in the United States, by implementing “common-sense” gun policies.
Among those policies would be a requirement that all gun buyers pass a criminal background check — effectively closing the so-called gun show loophole that allows buyers at gun shows to avoid criminal background checks if they buy a weapon from an unlicensed dealer.
“Who would object to people who are buying guns to be subject to a background check?” Lazaro said. “When you go to the gun shop in Purcellville, you do it. Why should I be able to go somewhere else and there be no ID check?”
That step may not have prevented the tragedy at Sandy Hook, Lazaro said — the shooter used weapons purchased legally by his mother. But further actions, such as banning military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, could potentially reduce the number of deaths in the future, he said.
About 30,000 Americans are killed each year as a result of gun violence, according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
“Why does someone need to have a 100-round magazine for an assault rifle?” Lazaro said. “Why does someone need to own bullets that can go through a police officer’s vest?”
Lazaro remains the only Loudoun mayor in the coalition. Leesburg Mayor Kristen Umstattd said that, after looking into the organization, she would not join.
“I have tremendous respect for Mayor Lazaro and for every citizen who was as sickened as I was with what happened in Newtown and every other location where gun violence has taken so many lives,” Umstattd said in an e-mail. “But the name of the organization, ‘Mayors Against Illegal Guns,’ while safe politically, is also meaningless, or perhaps misleading, if MAIG’s goal is to ban guns that are currently legal.”
Most, if not all, mayors in the country are already opposed to illegal guns, Umstattd said, adding that the weapon used in Newtown was legal and purchased legally. She questioned why the coalition has not laid out a plan and identified funding for increasing security in schools.
“The National Rifle Association has immense fundraising abilities and needs to put them to use in raising money for school systems that need to upgrade their security,” Umstattd said. As a lifelong member of the NRA, she said, she hoped the organization will take school security as seriously as it does political campaigns.
“If we believe in the Second Amendment, as I do, we need to accept our responsibility to our children and our communities and make sure no gun owner . . . can abuse the Second Amendment by making it an excuse for placing our children and other citizens in jeopardy,” she said.
Umstattd also said that more attention should be focused on providing resources to help families deal with members who are mentally disturbed.
“But, again, taking care of the mentally ill costs money and the MAIG action plan does nothing to address that problem,” she said.
The coalition’s goal to take military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines off the streets was the only clear objective that “doesn’t just restate current law,” Umstattd said. “Do I think the mother of the Newtown killer should have had a 30-round Bushmaster in her house, especially given the disturbed mental state of her son? No, I do not.”
Although Lazaro’s decision to join the coalition was largely symbolic, he said, he thought it was time to add his voice to those demanding action nonetheless.
Purcellville “has no jurisdiction over gun laws; the town isn’t going to take up resolutions or ordinances, I recognize that,” he said. “But as someone who is a dad and an uncle and a leader in the community, I thought it was time to say, ‘Look, there needs to be a reasonable approach to this.’ It’s time that we honestly address it.”