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Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting in Washington Friday. / Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP

WASHINGTON - Attorney General Eric Holder called on the nation's mayors Friday to use their influence to push Congress to swiftly pass new gun control laws.

"Public service is never easy, and there come times when those of us who are in elected or appointed positions must put the interests of those we are privileged to serve above that which might be politically expedient or professionally safe. This is one of those times," Holder told the U.S. Conference of Mayors at their winter meeting here. "Each of the leaders in this room has both the power - and the responsibility - to make a powerful, positive difference. "

Gun violence "has touched every city and town represented here," Holder said. "Unacceptable levels of gun violence plague our cities and towns every day."

Federal, state and local officials share the responsibility for enforcing gun laws and addressing gun violence, Holder said. Congress, he said, should pass a law requiring universal background checks for gun purchases, ban high-capacity magazines and armor-piercing bullets and renew the assault-weapons ban.

"Although there's no single solution that can bring a decisive end to this senseless violence, it's incumbent upon each of us to try. And it's time to consider what common-sense steps we can take," Holder said. "But we won't be able to do this alone. The fact is that our ability to tackle this challenge will depend on the willingness of millions of Americans - and thousands of dedicated public servants like you - to engage with one another in order to make a positive difference."

Holder also defended the 23 executive orders President Obama signed Wednesday, saying the measures do not infringe on the Second Amendment right to bear arms and do not go beyond the president's historical powers.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, a gun owner from a "gun-owning state," asked the mayors to consider "common-sense regulations that we could put in place that will make us safer."

Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton said citizens in his state fear federal gun laws mean "Washington is going to take their guns." He suggested passing tougher regulations at the local and state level to avoid backlash against the federal government.

But New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said legislators in Congress will respond to pressure from mayors in their districts.

"We need Congress to stop this craziness," Bloomberg said. "If we don't take action over the course of the president's next term, 48,000 Americans will be murdered with guns."

Bloomberg, a founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, called the enforcement of laws prohibiting criminals and mentally ill from owning guns "a tragic joke."

"Criminals can buy guns as easily as logging onto the internet or just by stopping at a gun show and there's no background check," Bloomberg said. "As mayors, we see people breaking the law and we say: 'How do we stop them?' Unfortunately, you are here in a city where that's not what people do. Here in Washington, for far too long, elected officials have been watching people break the law, and have said absolutely nothing."

Background checks for all gun sales will reduce illegal trafficking, domestic violence murders and suicides, Bloomberg said. Congress should also require states to add mental health records to the gun database, he said.

Congress, unlike mayors, doesn't confront gun violence regularly, Bloomberg said. Mayors Against Illegal Guns is launching a congressional outreach campaign.

"Congress people don't get called in the middle of the night When a police officer has been shot," Bloomberg said. "We understand what it's like, and they don't, and so it's incumbent on us to explain to the people in Washington."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Attorney general to mayors: Put power behind gun control

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