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Could Mayors' fervor for gun curbs trigger global legal action?

CHICAGO -- Could international law be used to curb the torrent of U.S.-made pistols, rifles and assault weapons now fueling the bloody Mexican drug wars and being trafficked globally?

The idea surfaced among 100 mayors and other municipal officials from around the world gathered here for a two-day Richard J. Daley Global Cities Forum (named after the current Mayor Richard M. Daley's legendary father).

The message he'd heard from the international mayors, Daley said after the meetings, was: "We're tired of your guns, America.... Why are you shipping your guns to our country? Why are you marketing guns today ... not with hunting, but guns that are supposed to kill people? ... Why are you doing this to Africa, the Caribbean, Mexico, the rest of the world?"

The "extremely violent" Mexican drug gangs, Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon reported, are getting 85 percent of their weaponry from transfers across the U.S. border. (The method is simple--gangs simply recruit straw buyers who can flash a U.S. driver's license at a gun shop, walk out with scores of firearms, many of them assault weapons, and then transport the lethal cargo into Mexico.)

Ebrard joined Daley, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and others in pressing for a resolution, approved by the mayors, to "seek redress against the gun industry through the courts of the world--including local, state and federal courts, and international courts--for damages caused to our countries, cities and communities by global trafficking of illegal guns."

Daley, a long-standing leader among U.S. mayors in seeking tough gun regulations and holding gunmakers responsible for the deadly impact of their products, faces the grim reality that the U.S. Supreme Court may soon strike down Chicago's own ban on handguns and assault weapons--even as Chicago's gun-driven murder rate has spiked.

But Philadelphia's Nutter is equally fervid on the issue. "People are being killed every day with illegal weapons," he said, suggesting "I love the Second Amendment. But I have a First Amendment right not to be shot." No other U.S. industry, Nutter added, has the legal protections against the impact of its products that the gun industry enjoys--protections that culminated with Congress passing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (heavily lobbied by the National Rifle Association) in 2005.

"Politicians are so deadly afraid of the NRA that they can't make the right decisions for their constituents," Nutter alleged. So an appeal to the World Court, he acknowledged, might be a long shot but "worth trying." (One possibility would be international suits against U.S. gun manufacturers based on the damage their products cause.)

The gun issue is all the more vital, the mayors' resolution noted, because of the increase in youth violence worldwide and the role of illegal guns in strengthening international criminal organizations that also deal in "other contraband, including humans."

The mayors' outspokenness on guns may be part of a new global pattern. "Both national governments and journalists should get used to mayors having strong positions and expressing them," said Mayor Bertrand Delanoe of Paris. He recalled that before last year's global conference on climate in Copenhagen, the world's mayors spoke out strongly for an accord with real teeth:

"But national governments did not listen to what we said. Copenhagen was a failure whereas it is in the cities where this fight can be won." Delanoe is the current president of United Cities and Local Governments, which represents 1,000 municipalities and 112 city organizations in 136 countries, seeking to defend local governments' interests.

Mostly, when world mayors have met in the past they have passed mildly progressive policy resolutions and focused more on exchanging accounts and ideas about processes and "best practices" being tried in their own cities.

Idea exchange has also been the focus of the Chicago Daley Forum meeting on the University of Illinois-Chicago campus, with an audience of 1,000 at the concluding public session. This year's focus was on public-private partnerships as cities seek to dig out of the global Great Recession.

But the right moment for mayors and city governments to rise as global policy players may have arrived. The world's population has turned majority urban. National governments, faced with fiscal and administrative crises, are pressed to decentralize powers. Mayors around the world are in increasing personal contact with each other. Rising numbers of city delegations, business and public, are matching ideas and strategies on worldwide visits.

As opposed to nations' political wars, cities' agendas tend to be overwhelmingly practical, not ideological--one recalls the legendary New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia's observation: "There is no Democratic or Republican way of cleaning the streets."

Could we have a worldwide urban voice taking that practical approach about restraining guns, or acting on carbon issues before cities are either flooded or victimized by extreme heat?

Let's hope.

Neal Peirce's e-mail address is

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Title Annotation:mayers Richard M. Daley, Michael Nutter and Michael Coleman
Author:Peirce, Neal
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 10, 2010
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