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The Skinny

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THE BACKGROUND-CHECK PUSH

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and South Tucson Mayor Jennifer Eckstrom joined with dozens of their counterparts across the nation last week to announce a new push for pressuring U.S. senators to support expanded background checks on gun sales when they return to work next week.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, spearheaded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, coordinated a "day of action" last Thursday, March 28, to announce plans to collect petition signatures this week urging lawmakers to get behind the background-check bill now moving through the Senate.

Pam Simon, the former congressional aide who was among the 19 people shot when a crazed gunman opened fire at Gabby Giffords' Congress on Your Corner event on Jan. 8, 2011, said that the group hopes to persuade Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake to support expanding background checks on sales by unlicensed gun sellers. Under current federal law, only federally licensed firearms dealers are required to do a background check before selling a gun (and only federally licensed dealers have access to the background-check database).

Simon suggested that supporters of expanding background checks to unlicensed dealers should call or write McCain and Flake "to let them know how important this common sense is."

A bill that includes background checks on virtually all gun sales passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. The bill includes some exceptions for firearms passed between immediate family members or temporarily loaned for hunting or sporting events.

Some GOP senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have threatened to filibuster the legislation to prevent a vote of the full Senate.

"We should look for ways to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill prone to misusing them, but I oppose legislation that will be used as a vehicle to impose new Second Amendment restrictions on responsible, law-abiding gun owners," Rubio said in a statement last week. "We should work to reduce tragic acts of violence by addressing violence at its source, including untreated mental illness, the lack of adequate information-sharing on mental health issues, and the breakdown of the family."

Flake voted against the legislation when it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote after efforts to forge a bipartisan bill collapsed. Flake called the idea of universal background checks "a bridge too far" during an appearance on Meet the Press last Sunday, March 31.

"The paperwork requirements alone would be significant," Flake said.

McCain has supported requiring background checks at gun shows in the past and has said in recent months that he supports expanding background checks in general. Simon will be discussing efforts to pass gun-violence legislation at the weekly Democrats of Greater Tucson meeting next Monday, April 8. The talk, "What You Can Do To Support Gun Safety," begins at noon at the Dragon View Restaurant, 400 N. Bonita Ave.


HOW ABOUT A FREE SHOTGUN?

Political gadfly Shaun McClusky is moving ahead with his plans to hand out free shotguns in Tucson neighborhoods.

McClusky says the lucky recipients "will receive a cleaning kit, they'll receive the shotgun, they'll receive slugs, they'll go through a background check and they'll also go through the training class."

The program is a local affiliate of the Armed Citizen Project, which launched in Houston earlier this year.

McClusky told The Skinny last week that he'd already raised $12,000 in pledges for the program. With each "package" costing about $350, that would mean, if all the pledges come through, that he would have enough money to hand out roughly three dozen "single-shot, break-action shotguns," says McClusky, who hopes to raise more money to expand the program.

McClusky says the program will initially target three Tucson neighborhoods: Pueblo Gardens, Midvale Park and the Grant-Campbell area.

The latter area, he says, "is becoming rampant with break-ins."

Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik, who lives in the Campbell-Grant area, was critical of McClusky's plan.

"For someone to say it makes sense to be giving away loaded shotguns in high-crime areas is absolute lunacy," Kozachik says. "These people have lost their minds."

But McClusky, who unsuccessfully ran for the City Council four years ago and failed to make it on the ballot in the mayor's race two years ago, says the City Council's failure to fund the police department makes it necessary to hand out free shotguns.

"My question to Steve is: When is he going to fully fund public safety?" McClusky says. "Response times are climbing every year. They keep gutting police and fire. When they start fully funding police and fire, a program like this would not be needed."

McClusky says that in the next 30 to 45 days, he'll drop fliers around the neighborhoods where he wants to hand out shotguns. Anyone who is interested will be invited to a meeting, asked to undergo a background check and, if the check shows no problems, be given a free shotgun.

Once the meetings are done, "we're going to notify the entire neighborhood that we are going to arm citizens in your neighborhood and we're going to protect your neighborhood. We're going to take it back. The City Council is failing to protect you with police and fire. We're going to give you the opportunity to keep your home safe."

Cindy Fayala, the president of the Pueblo Gardens Neighborhood Association, told The Skinny she doesn't want McClusky handing out shotguns in her neighborhood.

"I don't have a problem with guns," Fayala said. "I am a gun owner. I have a problem with how he is presenting himself. ... He's telling everybody that we are a high-crime, low-income neighborhood, and that's not true."

Fayala says crime is not a big problem in Pueblo Gardens, which is located near 36th Street and Kino Parkway. She says the neighborhood, where she has lived for 30 years, is on the upswing.

"Have you been to 36th and Kino?" she asks. "The UA bio park is over there. We've got a Walmart; we've got a Costco; they're getting ready to put in a McDonald's."

Fayala is upset that McClusky didn't reach out to the neighborhood association before announcing his plans.

"I've never even met the man," Fayala said. "He's making a total so-and-so out of himself. ... My honest opinion, I think he's doing this for political gain."

Fayala says Pueblo Gardens has a good relationship with the Tucson Police Department.

"They are an active part of our community," Fayala said. "I feel like what this guy is doing, he's trying to destroy the communications and positive stuff that's going on in our neighborhood."

Earlier this week, McClusky said he had "no doubt" that Fayala is right about Pueblo Gardens not having a crime problem.

"We'd like to keep it that way and the public has responded and said that they'd like to participate in the program, so, by the demand of the public, we will go forward with the program," he said.

But McClusky left the door open to moving to a different area of town.

"I'm not going to tell you that it's 100 percent set in stone," he said. "If I don't get enough inquiries or enough requests for shotguns, we'll move to other areas."

McClusky says he's been receiving "a ton of requests" for free shotguns in the area of 29th Street and Columbus Boulevard.

Fayala says she doesn't want McClusky moving forward with the plan.

"I would rather he move to another state," she says.

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