With the passage of the NY Safe Act, New York State has banned assault weapons and expanded the bans already in place on large ammunition clips. It includes universal background checks for the sale of firearms; requiring the sale or transfer of firearms through a licensed firearms dealer; requirements on the safe storage of all guns; and a ban on the possession, sale or manufacturing of assault weapons. It was a move overtly hailed by city politicians, but there was also an understanding that it is the handgun that is the weapon of death to city residents in general and the African-American teen population in particular.
In a March 2012 report, “Protect Children Not Guns”, The Children’s Defense Fund analyzes the latest fatal and nonfatal firearm injury data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 2008 and 2009 for children and teens ages 0-19.1 years. They found that 5,740, “or one child or teen every three hours, eight every day, 55 every week for two years, were killed by guns in 2008 and 2009” and that they “would fill more than 229 public school classrooms of 25 students each” and 45% of them would be African-American. The assault weapon ban may protect those living outside the city but it is the handgun that is the problem in the African-American community.
“We need a greater level of intervention by the city, state and federal government to help deal with the out-of-control gun violence in our community,” said Congressman Hakeem Jeffries at a press conference outside of Herbert Von King Park this past Sunday. He gave the examples of three handgun deaths: a 34-year-old father of three was shot dead in a Clinton Hill Diner, a 92-year-old grandmother shot in E.N.Y. “and on Thursday, just a few feet from where we are now, a 2-year-old toddler was shot while in his father’s arms, a short while after that an ABC journalist was killed just a stone’s throw away from the local police precinct. Enough is enough”.
Both the congressman and City Councilman Al Vann spoke about the work being done locally to address the culture of violence that exists and “to ensure that our community gets the academic, cultural and recreational resources that we deserve, but we also need to make sure we address the gun trafficking that has brought a flood of illegal weapons into Bedford-Stuyvesant and the rest of central Brooklyn. There is no gun that is manufactured in Bedford-Stuyvesant or anywhere in New York City,” said Jeffries. They come from upstate or “up the I-95 corridor from states in the Deep South”.
At the conference Councilman Vann spoke of the community’s understanding of supply and demand and iterated some of the measures the local community has undertaken, many on a volunteer basis, to stem the demand side. “We have a strong and positive relationship with our precinct, YES Task Force and other organizations,” said the councilman, speaking of the on-the-street daily work of members of the community, but they cannot affect the flow of weapons. “We need the federal government and appropriate agencies to do what they must do to stop the guns coming into our community”.
Congressman Jeffries, now a member of the Budget and Judiciary Committees, said “We spent billions of dollars, in vain, trying to find weapons of mass destruction in a faraway land in Iraq; we should spend a fraction of that money trying to find the sources of the weapons of mass destruction that are wreaking havoc here in Bedford-Stuyvesant and New York”. In response to a question, he said he would confront the second amendment and the right to bear arms. “There is a second amendment right to bear arms, but there’s a first amendment right to freely assemble. And we have to respect that right to freely assemble in safety. The idea that the second amendment prevents the enactment of gun laws is just a smoke screen for the gun manufacturers to profiteer at the expense of the people we represent.”
As a member of the Budget Committee, Jeffries will be in the thick of the battle to bring resources for programs that cut the demand for guns, with Representative Paul Ryan across the table. “I may have to put some Brooklyn on him,” Jeffries said after the press conference.
The complexity of the demand side requires a variety of solutions and lines of attack. At a forum on violence held the previous day at the Magnolia Tree Earth Center of Bedford-Stuyvesant, just down the block from the shooting of the 2-year-old, District Attorney Charles Hynes said that his forty years as an attorney tells him that you “can’t believe in public safety without reducing recidivism”. He said the program out of his office has a 2% recidivism rate and has as a centerpiece, “real jobs”. All he needs to expand it is money. “If I had a million and a half dollars, a drop in the budget, I could offer reentry to everybody coming home from prison”, but the system has more interest in “detention not prevention”.
A member of the audience brought up the historical aspect of violence and alluded to the intergenerational trauma of slavery and life for African-Americans in the United States. The forum leader, Democratic Male District Leader Robert Cornegy said in order to get to that, we must first define the violence we’re seeing as “a public health issue” and that he and others were organizing around that aspect and are working to get that “to resonate through city, state and federal government”