Mayors from across the nation unite to urge GOP House Speaker for assault weapons ban, face uphill battle

Mayor Eric Adams
Mayor Eric Adams.
Photo Credit: Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor Eric Adams, along with 61 mayors from around the country, urged GOP House Speaker Mike Johnson on Thursday to support a new federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. 

Their call for a ban, however, is unlikely to gain much traction in the Republican-controlled chamber led by Johnson, a far-right conservative representing Louisiana.

The coalition of mayors made their request in a letter to the newly-minted speaker in the wake of last month’s mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine that left 18 people dead and another 13 wounded, where the perpetrator used an assault rifle. Due to political gridlock, Congress has been unwilling to pass a new federal assault weapons ban since the last one expired in 2004.

The coalition includes mayors of cities across the nation who have experienced mass shootings, like Mayor Bryron Brown of Buffalo — where 10 people were killed when a gunman opened fire in a supermarket in May 2022. Also signed onto the letter are Mayors Nancy Rotering of Highland Park, Illinois and Jose Sanchez of Monterey Park, California, both cities that suffered mass shootings that killed seven and 11 people respectively.

During a virtual press briefing on Thursday, the mayor said the Maine shooting “shook me to my core” and added that it motivated him to push for outlawing assault weapons.

“I believe in the power of prayer, but when it comes to guns, we need the power of political will too,” Adams said. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough. You have the power Mr. Speaker, use it to protect American lives and keep this nation a place where our families, our friends and our children can live in safety and freedom. New Yorkers and Americans need a federal assault weapons ban. Let’s do it now.”

Adams said a federal moratorium on assault weapons is a “proven method” to drive down the number of mass shootings nationally. For instance, there were 137 mass shooting deaths over the 10 years the assault weapons ban was in effect, but that number jumped to 326 over the decade after it expired — according to data provided by City Hall.

“Just look at the stats, mass shooting deaths were 70% less likely to occur back when the federal prohibition on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines was in effect,” Adams said. “Put simply, too many shooters become mass shooters because we’ve made it easy for disturbed people to access weapons of war.”

While New York state has very strict gun laws, Adams said, surrounding states have far looser restrictions. That reality makes it possible for an assailant to buy an assault weapon in a neighboring state and shoot-up a densely populated part of the city.

Illinois is in a similar boat, Mayor Rotering said, even after the state passed its own assault weapons ban in January.

“Illinois is surrounded by states with lacks or no gun restrictions,” Rotering said. “A quick drive to the next state supplies anyone with a combat weapon.”

However, the chances of the mayors’ letter actually pushing Congress to act on the issue are slim, considering an assault weapons ban is a nonstarter for most Republicans, who control the House. Adams did not specifically say what kind of support there is for an assault weapons ban in Congress, when questioned by a reporter.

When asked about what could move the needle in Congress, Adams said the period right after mass shootings is often the best time to push for more comprehensive gun reforms like an assault weapons ban. The shooting prompted U.S. Rep. Jared Golden (R-Maine) to change his position and support a ban on assault weapons.

“Because, sadly, horrifically this keeps happening in America in all kinds of communities,” Brown said, “Americans are going to continue to lift their voices up and say to their lawmakers that an assault weapons ban needs to be passed.”