By Aissatou Diallo
Keilon LaBarrie, 18, watches his back every time he leaves his Flatbush home. He knows so many teens with guns that he feels unsafe in his neighborhood.
Even though experts at the Centers for Disease Control credit the low rate of teen gun ownership in New York City to stronger gun laws, young people in Brooklyn are still getting their hands on weapons fairly easily.
LaBarrie’s peers get guns from street dealers or from family members so they can “protect themselves or look tough,” he said.
“It’s an underground market. It’s so established now – it’s similar to the drug market,” said Allen James, Program Manager of Save Our Streets Crown Heights. “All they have to do is ask a few questions of their peers and they know how to get them. It’s not a rare thing.”
Save Our Streets Crown Heights aims to stop shootings from Kingston Ave to Utica and Eastern Parkway to Atlantic Avenue by getting teens, gang and guns off the streets.
The federal data shows teens carrying guns in the city has declined since 2001 by 36 percent reaching an all-time low of 2.3 percent, compared to the national average of 5.1 percent.
New York has one of the nation’s stiffest penalties for possession of an illegal handgun with a 3 ½ year mandatory minimum sentence for illegal possession. But, still more than a quarter of all murder suspects were ages 16 and 21, according to the 2012 annual NYPD report on the state of murder in New York City.
Gun violence is a bigger issue in Brooklyn though with 36 percent of the 419 homicides in the city in 2012 occurring in mostly northern and eastern Brooklyn, making it the most dangerous of the five boroughs.
For those teens who still participate in gun-related activities, James, of Save Our Streets Crown Heights, points out that one of the major challenges is the effort to redirect young people away from violence and destructive activities. Save Our Streets staff encourages the youth to set small, simple achievable goals to change their lifestyle like getting legal NY State ID cards or getting back into school. But James said it ultimately begins with the youth “to make individual decisions to change.”
Thirty percent of shootings in New York City can be traced to gangs composed of mostly young teens, who are responsible for much of the violence in and around public housing and elsewhere, according to the NYC Youth and Guns press release. To tackle this issue the NYPD introduced Operation Crew Cut which included expanding the size of the Gang Division.
According to National Gun Victims Action Council (NGAC) , unauthorized people get guns easily in three ways: Relatives or friends buy guns for someone legally prohibited from possessing them. Corrupt federally licensed gun sell “off the books” to private sellers and criminals. Also, a loophole in federal law allows unlicensed or “private” sellers to lawfully sell guns without conducting a criminal background check.