WASHINGTON -- Taking aim at legal loopholes that permit sales of guns to criminals, Mayor Sheila Dixon joined other big-city leaders yesterday in urging a congressional task force to push for legislation to prohibit gun dealers whose licenses have been revoked from selling weapons privately.
"If we could solve the problem of illegal guns without coming to Washington, we would," she said. "But we need help from the federal government."
In their testimony, the mayors - Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, Thomas M. Menino of Boston, John Peyton of Jacksonville, Fla., and Dixon - outlined several steps that might help stem the flow of weapons to people least likely to use them sensibly.
They said gun dealers should not be allowed to sell weapons at gun shows without first doing criminal background checks on prospective purchasers, and should also perform such checks on any of their employees who handle guns in the course of business.
A primary aim of the mayors is to stop "straw purchases," in which a person buys a gun for someone else.
In addition, they said, people whose names are on a terrorist watch list and are therefore not allowed to board airliners should also be listed in a database of those not allowed to buy guns.
"I was shocked to learn that we can keep suspected terrorists from getting on an airplane, but we currently have no way to block them from owning a gun," said Peyton, who said Jacksonville's per-capita crime rate in 2007 was the highest in Florida.
The hearing before the Congressional Task Force on Illegal Guns took place a day before the first anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech by a student who had been able to purchase firearms despite having been flagged by the court system as emotionally unstable.
Bloomberg, who helped start the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said a study by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found that while most gun dealers had no links to guns used in crimes, about 1 percent of dealers supply almost 60 percent of guns recovered from crimes.
Bloomberg's group unveiled its own study yesterday, a 26-page report, titled "Inside Straw Purchasing: How Criminals Get Guns Illegally," that he said focuses on dealers who regularly flout the law.
"For instance," Bloomberg told the task force, "one former employee of a gun dealer said his colleagues regularly told customers who failed a background check to return with someone else who could stand in for them."
Rhode Island Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy - whose uncles President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy were felled by assassins' bullets - told the mayors that he had learned from Dean Esserman, the police chief in Providence, R.I., that guns are now the "drug of choice" among many young people because they provide "a sense of power and immortality on the streets."
In a brief interview, Dixon said it was imperative to lobby senators and representatives "who are not on board" with gun-control legislation.
"We've got to be in their faces on a regular basis," she said.