NEW YORK (AP) — New York City's mayor met Thursday with the parents of a Chicago girl killed just days after performing at President Barack Obama's inaugural festivities, then suggested that places interested in reducing gun violence might want to emulate the Big Apple, where studies have found teenagers are less likely to carry weapons than in any other major U.S. city.
The meeting between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the parents of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was killed in an apparent case of mistaken identity, came as gun control advocates have pressed Congress to pass proposals that include requiring criminal history checks for nearly all gun purchases.
Rigorous background checks for handgun sales are already the norm in New York City, along with the nation's most restrictive licensing requirements, but Bloomberg also heralded "proactive policing" and a 3 1/2 year minimum mandatory jail term for illegal possession as strategies that have deterred young people from carrying guns.
A 2011 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 2.3 percent of high school students in New York City reported having carried a gun at least once in the past 30 days. That rate was far below the national average of 5.1 percent, and the lowest among the 21 large urban school districts that participated in the survey.
Gun possession rates were highest in Washington D.C., where 7.5 percent of students reported a gun, followed by Milwaukee, Wis. and Duval County, Fla., which each had a rate of 7.1 percent. The second-lowest gun possession rate, of 3.3 percent, was found in Boston.
The survey results have been publicly available since last June, but with gun control issues high on the national agenda, Bloomberg held a news conference to discuss the findings Thursday.
In Chicago, where Hadiya was killed, 5.8 percent of students reported having carried a gun. The two men charged in her death are ages 18 and 20.
After meeting with Bloomberg at City Hall, Hadiya's mother, Cleopatra, said she was "very hopeful" Congress would pass bills that would require background checks for most private gun sales and also stiffen penalties for people who help convicted felons buy weapons.
"You know, it's my family this time, but it could be your family next time," she said.
Bloomberg is the founder of a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns that has advocated for tighter gun control. His administration has sued gun manufacturers, claiming they recklessly flood the market with cheap pistols and organized stings against out-of-state firearms dealers he claimed were fueling the city's illegal gun trade. Recently, Bloomberg has financed a $12 million ad campaign aimed at supporting tighter regulations.
Many gun owners have been incensed at suggestions that shootings sprees like the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn. could be prevented by more restrictions on firearms possession. The National Rifle Association opposes the background check plan and wants other measures, like more armed guards at schools.
Bloomberg's news conference also coincided with a civil trial challenging the constitutionality of one of the city's strategies for taking guns off the street, a tactic known as "stop and frisk" in which officers have halted, questioned and often searched hundreds of thousands of mostly innocent people.
Most of the people stopped in the program have been black or Hispanic, and there are widespread complaints that the stops often amount to harassment. In 2011, police conducted more than 680,000 stops and recovered fewer than 800 guns.
In the trial, now under way in federal court, people who were detained have asked a judge to appoint a monitor for the police department.
Bloomberg said he sympathized with people upset about being stopped, but said the benefits were worth the hassle.
"Based on the crime data, there is just no question that it is working," the mayor said. "The more people we can keep from carrying guns, the more lives we can save, the more success that we'll have keeping teenagers from making a terrible decision they will regret for the rest of their lives."
Associated Press Writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.