Two mayors feel pressure for joining gun group
By TIM STONESIFER
For the York Daily Record/Sunday News
Updated: 09/16/2009 11:45:53 AM EDT
Two local mayors are taking fire for joining a national coalition that aims to remove illegal guns from the street.
Gettysburg Mayor William Troxell and East Berlin Mayor Keith Hoffman are two of more than 450 mayors nationwide who've lent their names to "Mayors Against Illegal Guns," an organization started in April 2006 by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to stamp out illegally purchased guns.
But Hoffman said his participation - which began about a month ago - resulted from a misunderstanding of the group's objectives, and he's currently trying to get his name off the list.
"It was a mistake really," he said. "They swindle you in and then put your name on the list."
Hoffman explained he is a gun owner and would never support a group that would in any way limit people's rights to own guns. A letter to East Berlin citizens to explain how he was misinformed by the mayors group is forthcoming, he said.
The National Rifle Association earlier this month sent its own letter to members in both East Berlin and Gettysburg, urging them to ask their mayors to opt out of what the NRA calls "a front group to lobby Congress to oppose important pro-gun reforms."
And since that time, both Hoffman and Troxell have received complaints from residents who worry their Second Amendment rights are in danger.
"What (Hoffman's) done is put people on notice that East Berlin is an anti-gun town," said borough council Vice President Robert Clayton. "That's well beyond the duties of the mayor."
Several phone calls to Troxell seeking comment were not returned.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns was started in 2006, when 15 mayors met at Gracie Mansion in New York City in hopes of stopping the flow of illegal guns. Since then its membership has grown to more than 450.
Member mayors each sign a statement that says in part "there is no greater threat to public safety than the threat of illegal guns." Each agrees to punish to the maximum extent of the law those who use illegal guns, and to support any legislation targeting illegal guns, which the organization describes as those purchased without federally mandated background checks or through unlicensed gun dealers.
In addition, the organization recently fought against passage of the Thune Amendment, which would have allowed gun owners from states with concealed-carry laws the freedom to carry guns even in states without such laws. The Web site for Mayors Against Illegal Guns says the group does not take a position generally on concealed-carry laws.
The organization's opposition to another controversial piece of gun legislation - the Tiahrt Amendment - has drawn the ire not only of the NRA, but also the Fraternal Order of Police.
That amendment, named after its sponsor, U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from releasing its trace data to anyone other than a law-enforcement officer involved in a criminal investigation. According to its supporters, the amendment is designed to keep undercover police officers safe.
The mayors' group argues the Tiahrt Amendment actually makes it harder for law enforcement to pursue criminals, and more difficult to find dealers who sell guns illegally, by marking as confidential accumulated government data that might otherwise lead to arrests.
But law enforcement groups like the Fraternal Order of Police have argued the danger to undercover police officers is not worth the risk run by more broad exposure of sensitive data, and support keeping the law in place.
The debate over Tiahrt reached its climax in 2007 when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the 300,000-plus member Fraternal Order of Police a "fringe organization," prompting that group's executive director to question Bloomberg's law-enforcement expertise.
York Mayor John Brenner - who is also a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns - recently defended the group's positions, arguing such an effort is necessary to help quell gun violence in York and other towns. He said he joined the group to try and "address the serious problem of illegal guns in our communities."
But Brenner, too, has received a number of calls from NRA members who are concerned for the future of their right to bear arms, and are asking him to drop his affiliation.
According to the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, more than 40 mayors have already left the organization, a movement the NRA says is a result of disillusionment with what they consider misleading information on the part of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
And local NRA supporters continue to press the point.
"Making these pronouncements is well beyond the duties of our mayor," said Robert Clayton, an NRA member. "If he refuses to resign, I think East Berlin citizens should seriously consider an impeachment."
York Mayor John Brenner also getting heat for joining group.