Anti-Gun Mayor Pleads Guilty to Firearms Charges

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

( - A Mississippi mayor has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor weapons charges after carrying a handgun on church and school property, and a gun rights group thinks now would be a good time for him to step down from Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG).

Jackson Mayor Frank Melton, a Democrat, pleaded guilty Nov. 15 to the misdemeanors to avoid felony charges that would have cost him his job. Instead of jail time, he was fined $1,500 and put on a year's probation.

Lawrence Keane, director of the gun rights lobbying group National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), on Tuesday called Melton a "hypocrite" for violating gun laws while maintaining membership in MAIG.

MAIG is a coalition of American mayors headed by New York Republican Michael Bloomberg. On its website, the group says it "respect[s] the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns" and that their "only interest is in fighting crime."

The organization supports harsher penalties for criminals who use firearms and seeks to punish gun dealers who knowingly sell guns to so-called "straw purchasers."

In a letter to Bloomberg obtained by Cybercast News Service, Keane called for Melton's "immediate resignation" as mayor and urged Bloomberg to "follow the lead of the firearms industry and demand Mayor Melton resign from public office."

Keane also urged Bloomberg to bar Melton from participation in MAIG activities, saying that "his criminal conduct stands in stark contrast to the MAIG's purported goal of reducing gun crime in America."

In an e-mail statement, Bloomberg spokeswoman Virginia Lam said that "instead of mounting a public relations campaign to take down a tough opponent of illegal guns" -- a reference to Melton -- "the NSSF should be working with us to help keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals."

Lam told Cybercast News Service that "no one is above the law" but did not comment specifically on Melton's plea or on what, if any, action MAIG will take against him.

A spokesman for Melton did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Jackson City Council leaders contacted Tuesday were unwilling to talk about Melton's guilty plea. Last week, council President Ben Allen was quoted by Jackson's Clarion-Ledger as saying the city government "will not miss a beat" regardless of the outcome of the case.

The illegal gun issue is not Melton's first brush with controversy.

In July 2006, the American Civil Liberties Union called for an investigation into claims that he had "violated the civil rights of Jacksonians through warrantless searches of homes, vehicles and persons and by violating the due process rights of persons detained and/or accused of crimes."

The ACLU alleged that Melton, who is black, has "created an environment where racial profiling is accepted, due process is ignored, searches are conducted illegally, and police brutality is commonplace."

According to The Hill newspaper, Melton created a stir in the U.S. Capitol in July when he received credentials that would have allowed him to carry a firearm in the building, a privilege normally reserved only for active-duty police officers.

The Hill reported that Melton is known for carrying a firearm with him at all times, including on commercial airline flights and in accompanying Jackson police during crime-fighting efforts.

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