WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder urged the nation's mayors on Friday to support President Barack Obama's plan to require a background check for everyone who buys a firearm in the United States.
In his most extensive remarks about gun control, Holder called on mayors to push for "immediate congressional action" that would force gun show and private gun sellers to fully check the backgrounds of all their customers.
"By taking this relatively simple step, we can significantly strengthen our ability to keep criminals and other dangerous individuals from getting access to deadly weapons," Holder told a committee at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington. Until Congress takes action, he urged the mayors to encourage private gun sellers to run their transactions through the FBI background system with the help of a licensed firearm dealer.
Addressing the fuller Obama package, Holder said: "Some have said that these changes will require tough votes by members of Congress. As you all know, public service is never easy, and there come times when those of us who are elected or appointed to positions must put the interests of those who we are privileged to serve above that which might be politically expedient or professionally safe."
Administration officials said privately that, among the major legislative items in the president's proposals, the universal background check is the most likely to win bipartisan support in Congress. A ban on military assault weapons and high-capacity magazines is expected to face strong opposition from the gun lobby, congressional and administration officials told the Washington Post. They asked that their names be withheld because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
Addressing another element in Obama's program, Holder called for the Senate to confirm Todd Jones as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The agency, which regulates firearms and investigates gun violence and illegal gun trafficking, has been without a director for six years, largely due to efforts by the gun lobby to block previous nominees.
In signs of potential trouble for the nominee, Republican lawmakers criticized Jones for his involvement in issues related to Fast and Furious, the ATF's botched gun operation in Phoenix.
In addition to Holder, the mayors' conference also drew another gun-control advocate, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He backed Holder's push for universal background checks.