Opinion: Hofstra debate must address illegal guns

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. (July 20, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

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We've heard a lot from the candidates seeking to lead our nation on everything from budget deficits to Benghazi. But on the most critical public safety concern facing our country, their lips have been sealed.

With less than a month remaining in the race for the White House, President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney still haven't said how they plan to fight gun violence in America. Instead, the two men seeking the highest office in the land have largely skirted the issue -- despite the fact that 48,000 Americans will be murdered with a gun in the next president's term.

On Tuesday, the candidates will meet at Hofstra University to debate some of the most pressing issues of our time. We wholeheartedly believe this forum should include a substantive discussion about guns. Voters on Long Island and across the nation deserve it.


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For this reason, we are part of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan coalition of more than 700 mayors -- including 127 in New York State -- who advocate for commonsense laws that target criminal access to guns, but without infringing on the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

As mayors, we understand that to protect our communities and keep firearms out of dangerous hands, we need national reforms. The patchwork of state laws in place now isn't working, and one state's weak gun laws are another state's nightmare.

This is true right here on Long Island. In 2009, more than 200 guns recovered in local crimes came from other states like Alabama, Georgia, and Virginia -- all places where you can still avoid a background check by purchasing from private sellers at gun shows and over the Internet.

Virginia legislators don't seem to care. In February, they repealed a state law limiting handgun purchases to one per month. That's 12 guns every year, which is more than enough for most. Virginia was already the top source of guns recovered in New York crime scenes -- a race to the bottom that will now almost surely accelerate.

These guns wind up on our streets and wreak havoc on our communities. In total, more than 2,600 New Yorkers have fallen victim to gun murder since 2006. If we don't act now, 34 Americans are fated to die a similar death every day.

Behind these numbers, there are people. They are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters -- loved ones who left families behind and an empty seat at the dinner table.

We recognize this harsh reality very well. Mayor McDonald's husband, Steven, was a 29-year-old NYPD officer when he was shot in the head and neck three times in Central Park. Steven was lucky to survive, but the incident left him quadriplegic and he relies on a respirator to breathe.

Despite the physical and emotional hardships he's faced, Steven always says that his voice remains strong. So why can't our nation's leaders find their voices on this issue?

Too often, politicians are afraid to speak out because they don't want to incur the wrath of the gun lobby. What they overlook is that most gun owners support commonsense measures to keep their families safe from illegal guns.

This year, a survey conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz found that 82 percent of gun owners -- including 74 percent of National Rifle Association members -- support requiring criminal background checks for anyone purchasing a gun. And 76 percent of gun owners -- including 71 percent of NRA members -- want to prohibit people on terror watch lists from buying guns. These are areas where people on both sides of the gun debate agree, and there is no reason why our presidential nominees should not actively push to close these loopholes.

Since the terrible mass shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin this summer, more than 270,000 Americans have signed a petition demanding a plan to combat gun violence from President Obama and Gov. Romney.

It's time they speak up. On Tuesday night, we -- along with the country -- will be listening.

Patricia McDonald is the mayor of Malverne. Ralph Kreitzman is the mayor of Great Neck Village and president of the Nassau County Village Officials Association. More information about the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition is available at www.maig.org. This essay represents the personal opinions of Mayors McDonald and Kreitzman, and has not been endorsed by their villages or the NCVOA.

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