Jersey City to Quiz Gun Vendors on Safety Issues
New Jersey's second-largest city is adopting a novel approach to gun control by requiring weapons-makers bidding on municipal contracts to answer questions about their positions on gun safety issues.
Jersey City, a city of 250,000 across the Hudson River from Manhattan, is believed to be the first U.S. municipality to incorporate social responsibility questions into public contract bids. Mayor Steven Fulop says he wants municipalities to use their purchasing power to influence America's gun-safety conversation.
The bid specification going out Wednesday -- for roughly $200,000 worth of guns and $150,000 in ammunition -- includes six questions measuring vendors' gun safety record. One asks whether the manufacturer would commit to preventing its weapons from appearing in violent video games. Another asks what the company does to combat illegal gun trafficking.
"I think we can reshape the dialogue based on how we award contracts," Fulop told The Associated Press. "We can't do it ourselves. The hope is that will be replicated in other urban areas, and that we can get them to lead where Washington couldn't."
Fulop said the concept of using cities' purchasing power to influence the national gun-control dialogue was the product of frustration. He noted that in the year since 20 children and six educators were massacred at a Connecticut elementary school, Congress has failed to pass any significant gun-safety measures and New Jersey enacted only incremental measures. Still, New Jersey has the third strictest gun laws in the country, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Municipal police departments are among gun-makers' biggest customers, behind the military.
Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade association, said: "We would very much object to and oppose this attempt by a local government to politicize the selection of firearms for its police officers. Gun control politics has no place in the selection process."
Dave Workman, a top editor of The Gun Mag, a major gun lobby publication, said he is unaware of any other city including so-called corporate responsibility questions in a bid request.
Mandi Perlmutter, who leads the New Jersey chapter of the national gun-safety group Moms Demand Action, met with Fulop to develop the idea. She called it conversation-changing.
"This is an enormous step forward for New Jersey and an example for mayors across the country," she said.
Kim Russell, a spokeswoman for the national Moms Demand Action group, founded in the days after the Newtown massacre, said no other city has gone at the problem the way Jersey City has. The closest other local governments have come, she said, is selling investments in companies that support gun manufacturing.
Fulop, a Democrat sworn into office five months ago, said the responses to the gun safety questions will be considered along with price and safety. Positive answers will strengthen a bid; negative ones could sink it.
A 37-year-old former Marine, Fulop said he hopes larger cities will join the effort. Nearly every other industry, from construction to the garment industry, has some social responsibility component, he said, so why not gun manufacturers, dealers and vendors?
Keane, the gun lobby lawyer, suggests companies will simply refuse to answer the questions.
"They demonstrate an anti-gun bias and an agenda" that have nothing to do with a municipality selecting the best firearm for its officers, he said.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)