By Jill Colvin
CITY HALL — Family and friends of fatal shooting victims in Tuscon, Virginia Tech and Columbine joined Mayor Michael Bloomberg Monday to make an emotional plea to Federal lawmakers to close loopholes they say allow dangerous criminals to buy guns.
Bloomberg called on Congress to tighten the Federal background check system, which he said is failing to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill and is leading to 34 deaths every day. To illustrate that point, he was joined by dozens of loved one of victims of gun violence, 34 of whom took to the podium to tell their stories.
"Thirty-four yesterday, 34 today and 34 tomorrow," the mayor said. "At some point people just need to understand, it could have been them."
Bloomberg slammed officials in Washington for failing to do more. He said that Congress has only allocated 5 percent of the funding necessary to collect and enter background check data and that there are few repercussions for states that fail to meet their reporting requirements.
He called on President Barack Obama to make gun violence a centerpiece of his scheduled State of the Union address Tuesday night.
"Everybody understands the issues. What we need is the courage for somebody to stand up and do something," he said. "We call on President Obama to lead that charge like President Johnson did."
Martin Luther King III agreed.
"The federal government along with Congress must take action," he said. "My father would say. 'The time is now.'"
Bloomberg has made the fight against illegal guns a focus of his administration. He spoke alongside other members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns immediately following the Tucson shooting, calling on lawmakers to close loopholes that allow people with drug records to purchase guns.
This time, Bloomberg was joined by mothers like Lisa Baez, whose daughter, Cheyenne, was shot at the age of 17 in East Harlem, in Oct. 2010.
"I spend day in and day out staring at my daughter’s picture because I can’t believe it," Liz Baez said after she stepped off the stage. "My heart feels numb."
Harlem mother Robin Mercer, 46, held a picture of her son, Jeffrey T. Bradshaw Jr., 18, who was killed last September by a gun, as she described the tragic impact of guns on neighborhoods like hers.
"Every weekend, all you hear is gunfire," she said. "Every Saturday somebody’s getting murdered in Harlem."
She said she hoped that sharing her story would help make a difference.
"We’re all here for the same thing," she said, "justice for our families."