U.S. mayors unite in Metro Detroit on gun reform to stem mass shootings

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley addresses the media Friday as mayors from around the country meet at Oakland University in Rochester.

Rochester — It's been nearly 50 days since a mass shooting rocked Dayton, Ohio, leaving nine people dead and dozens wounded. 

The August tragedy marked the 250th mass shooting in the country this year, and one of two that took place in less than 13 hours. El Paso, Texas, suffered its own carnage after a gunman opened fire in a crowded shopping area.

Dayton's Nan Whaley stood Friday with 50 other mayors from across the country in a call to expand background checks for gun owners, saying her city "is not going to forget."

"When we all get together, I feel hope for our country and hope for action," Whaley said during a news conference at the fall leadership summit of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "We're tired of it. We are constant in this effort to make sure that we get common-sense gun legislation passed."

Gun reform is among the key issues being debated during the three-day conference co-hosted by the group's president, Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. 

Barnett on Friday said the organization of mayors rallied just after the shootings in Dayton and El Paso with a letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, asking for movement on companion bills to support background checks.

Barnett said 278 mayors signed on and the group has met with lawmakers and White House leaders.

"We are going to continue the drumbeat of conversation. We are going to press in every way possible," Barnett said. "We are going to be relentless until we see gun legislation passed relative to background checks."

McConnell in recent weeks has said Congress is awaiting proposals from the White House and remains in a holding pattern on gun control. President Donald Trump has said he would veto a House-passed bill to expand background checks for gun purchases. 

The mayors conference also has covered opioid abuse, youth engagement and the upcoming 2020 Census, among other topics, officials of the nonpartisan organization said during Friday's meeting at the Royal Park Hotel in Rochester.

Solutions, Barnett said, "aren't always easy, but we don't back down."

Duggan joined with the mayors in the call for gun reforms and for economic equality. He also said the city's efforts to engage residents for the spring census were developed with help from New York City and that other city leaders have since come to

Detroit seeking guidance.

The city is deploying the "Be Counted Detroit" campaign to get residents to fill out the census. Nonprofits, the Detroit school district, churches, businesses and other groups have signed on to try to help out drive responses for the spring count. 

The city is aiming to boost its response rate to 70 percent or better for the population count used to determine how much federal funding the city will receive for a range of programs. In 2010, participation in the city fell to 64 percent. It was among the worst performances among major U.S. cities.

Each uncounted Detroit resident represents a $1,800 annual loss to the city in federal funding, officials have said. That adds up to a potential loss of hundreds of millions in federal funding over a decade.

The city's count committee, Duggan said, has been running well and in recent weeks other cities have come to Detroit. 

"All of us have different things that we're doing well," he said. "We're not in competition with each other."

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan talks Friday with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot during the conference at Oakland University in Rochester.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said during the news conference the needs of constituents across the country are immediate and "we don't have the luxury of not getting things done."

"We have to be at the center of the national debate on every issue," she said. "That's the kind of energy and enthusiasm that we have to bring to the job every day because, literally, lives depend on it."

The conference is set to continue Saturday with stops at a new riverfront park in Detroit, the Mike Ilitch School of Business, the Detroit Institute of Arts and Michigan Central Depot.

cferretti@detroitnews.com