Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mayors' Coalition Strives to Keep Guns off Streets; Peyton Hosts State Conference on How to Stop Illegal Weapons

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mayors' Coalition Strives to Keep Guns off Streets; Peyton Hosts State Conference on How to Stop Illegal Weapons

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM

A year ago, Jacksonville Mayor Peyton had barely heard of a group calling itself Mayors Against Illegal Guns and had no plans to join.

But Monday, Peyton, now a member, hosted the 300-member organization's Florida conference and welcomed its co-founder, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Peyton said his change of heart came as he looked outward for solutions to Jacksonville's high murder rate. The idea of a national coalition of mayors working to keep guns from criminals was appealing, he said.

The Times-Union's Homicide 360 study published in January 2007 found a third of those arrested in Duval County gun homicides were felons, prohibited by law from possessing firearms. But little was being done to track and curb the supply of those guns.

"That is really the source of the challenge," Peyton said.

Peyton and Bloomberg met Monday with about a dozen other mayors and community leaders from around Florida to discuss strategy. They signed up 20 new Florida members, including the mayors of Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Fernandina Beach and Keystone Heights.

Fernandina Mayor Bill Leeper, a lieutenant with the Florida Highway Patrol, said his interest in the bipartisan group is twofold: keeping his community safe and ensuring enforcement of gun laws.

The organization was formed in 2006 after Bloomberg met with 14 other mayors in New York to discuss ways to enforce laws that prevent felons from possessing firearms.

Its mission is to punish felons with guns, target unscrupulous dealers, oppose efforts to restrict police access to trace data and support legislation that targets illegal gun possession.

"We have no objection to people owning guns ... but federal law prohibits owning a gun if you have a criminal record," Bloomberg said. "If you want to reduce crime, one of the most obvious things you can do is get guns out of the hands of people with criminal records. It is so obvious, it's amazing that we find ways not to do it."

The coalition has had some successes. Bloomberg said the group has convinced the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to begin releasing more trace information to police on guns used in crimes. And mayors along the east coast have begun sharing information about guns used by felons in hopes of building a database that police can tap into.

Marion Hammer, executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, was out of her office and didn't return phone calls Monday. But she told the Times-Union last year that Bloomberg has a hidden agenda to push stronger gun regulations, which her organization opposes. …

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