Mayor Michael Nutter was at a North Philadelphia library Thursday as a part of a National Day to Demand Action on gun legislation.
Flanked by children and advocates, Nutter and Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel called on Congress to require background checks for all gun sales, which are currently required for purchases from licensed shops, but not from private sellers.
“Background checks are already required for sales at licensed gun shops," Bethel said. "Dealers are already required to keep a record of the sale. Why can’t we hold private sellers to the same standards? The guns they sell are no less deadly than the guns sold by licensed dealers."
Nutter called universal background checks "the single most effective thing we can do to get guns out of the hands of criminals."
"It's like setting up two different lines at the airport – one where you have to go through security and one where you don't," Nutter said. "Which one do you think the criminals are going to choose?"
He said the checks need to be "comprehensive and enforceable."
"That means making sure that people who buy guns in private sales are checked, and the gun store that conducts the check keeps a record of the sale in case the gun is traced from a crime," he said.
"Background checks are the only systematic way to stop felons, domestic abusers and people with severe mental illnesses from buying firearms."
Nutter called out Congress members for failing to act on a bill mandating universal background checks, which is currently stalled in committee.
"To be brutally blunt about it, I'm not sure what Congress is doing right now," he said. "They need to schedule a vote – we've had enough talking."
A 10-year-old boy during a lull in the rally told Nutter two of his friends were shot in the head.
"I didn't know anyone who was shot when I was 10 years old," Nutter said, becoming emotional as he recalled his own childhood in West Philadelphia. "This needs to stop so our children won't know a friend or a classmate who has been shot."
The National Day to Demand Action is expected to be the largest gun violence advocacy event in history and is part of the largest field campaign aimed at gun violence in U.S. history.
Neighborhood resident Joe Davis has been in a wheelchair since a 14-year-old shot him 30 years ago. "Every day this chair serves as a reminder of what we're all fighting for," he said.
"Commonsense legislation is a long time coming," said Mothers in Charge advocate Donna Giddings, whose mother, son and friend were shot to death eight years ago just blocks away from the library.
"It's common sense to not allow a person to buy a gun without investigating their background."