2005-12-09 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

There have been 483 murders in New York City as of the end of last month, compared with 519 during the same period last year. At that rate, the city would record 530 murders this year, 40 less than last year and one of the lowest murder rates since the 1960’s.

Having said that, I have to add the disquieting fact that non-fatal shootings are up about five percent citywide this year.

Anybody who reads The Wave knows that there have been entirely too many gun incidents on the peninsula this year, far more than in the past.

My belief that shootings are on the uptick in Rockaway, however, is anecdotal rather than statistical.

It comes from handline stories each week and reading police reports from the two local precincts and from the Queens District Attorney.

The New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) official CompStat statistics tell another story.

According to the NYPD, there have been four homicides in the 101 Precinct (Far Rockaway) this year to date as opposed to eight last year, a fifty percent drop. Felonious Assaults (which should include non-fatal gun events) have fallen to 106 to date from 130 last year, a reduction of more than 18 percent.

The statistics for the 100 Precinct (Rockaway Beach) show that the precinct had one homicide this year as opposed to none last year, a 100 percent rise. Felonious Assaults were also down, from 66 last year to date to 60 this year, a drop of nine percent.

While those statistics are heartening, they don’t tell the entire story.

First of all, these “index crimes” are sometimes reduced to lesser crimes, taking them out of the CompStat statistics entirely.

Secondly, there is no category for “crimes using guns.”

There is a category for robberies. Those robberies can include both those using guns and those using another form of weapon. Robberies in the 100 Precinct were up to 75 from 38, a rise of 97.3 percent. In the 101 Precinct, robberies were up from 111 last year to 121 this year, a rise of nine percent.

Those are statistics. Here is some of the anecdotal information that give some lie to the statistics. All of these stories are from the front pages of this year’s Waves.

January 7: Shots fired at Cross Bay Bridge, bringing in the new year with a bang.

January 28: A dying Edgemere man identifies his shooter before expiring.

March 28: NYPD officers executing a warrant in Arverne take guns and drugs.

April 15: A mom and her son are arrested on gun, drug charges.

May 6: Shooting kills a noted drug dealer in Arverne as he sits in his car with his father looking on.

May 13: A mourner at the funeral of the murdered man is arrested at the funeral when he shows a friend his gun in the presence of police officers.

August 19: A gunman robs an Orthodox Jewish man on the Sabbath, refusing to understand that the man could not carry money on that day.

September 2: Shooting at Ocean Bay houses, reportedly in retaliation for the May 6 shooting.

October 7: Cops executing a warrant take guns from an Arverne apartment.

November 11: Gunpoint robbery inside Beach Channel High School.

December 2: Man shot in his car drives himself to hospital.

See what we mean. Lots of guns, but how many of those incidents make the CompStat statistics?

I don’t think that anybody, with the exception of those who live and die by the National Rifle Association (NRA) think that there is an acceptable level of guns in our community.

There are simply too many guns around and, despite what the NRA says, I don’t believe that there is a Constitutional right for juvenile thugs to have guns.

Those who think that everybody has a right to a gun say that that right is guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights. That amendment says, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Read that amendment in the context of 1789 and the Revolutionary War, and think of the “Minutemen” and you can understand why that amendment was added. Read the journals of those who were there when the amendments were drafted (A good source for that is “Miracle at Philadelphia”) and you will quickly understand that it was not drawn to protect thugs and cop killers, but because a national army of any real strength was still years away.

Today, that amendment is as archaic as the dinosaur. The NRA, however, with lots of clout in Congress because it spreads lots of money around, has kept it alive and transmuted its meaning to allow every thug and criminal in America to have an assault rifle in his or her closet.

Which brings us back to NYPD officer Dillon Stewart, who was shot by a man with a Florida pistol and a long history of violence against police officers.

While the NRA sent its condolences to the family of the slain officer, its officials clearly believe that the shooter, a man named Allan Cameron had a right to the gun he used to kill the officer. “Guns do not kill people, people kill people,” the organization’s mantra says, obviously forgetting that if Cameron did not have a gun, Stewart might be alive to go home to his wife and his two young daughters.

Most of the guns that are used in New York City, where the restrictions on buying and carrying a handgun are prolific, come from Virginia and Florida, where a resident can go in and buy as many guns as he or she wants without any check or the buyer’s background.

Here’s the way it works. A thug from Rockaway drives to Virginia and cruises around, perhaps hits the bars until he or she finds a local willing to make some money. The local goes into the gun stores and buys the weapons with money provided by the Rockaway resident.

The guns are then given to the Rockaway resident, who pays off the Virginia resident and drives back to Rockaway, where those guns are sold at two or three times what they were bought for. Each run made to Virginia, Pennsylvania or Florida, all of which have lax gun laws compared with New York, can bring eight to ten more guns to Rockaway streets.

Governor George Pataki, the State Senate and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have been trying to pass a bill that would make sentences for this kind of gun dealing much more stringent.

The Assembly has been blocking such a bill for years even though many Democratic Assembly members want the new law.

Under existing law, for example, possessing up to 20 unloaded handguns is a misdemeanor.

The maximum penalty under existing law for having those 20 illegal but unloaded handguns is one year.

The new law proposed by Pataki would make it a felony to illegally possess more than two handguns.

Illegally selling even one gun would become a “violent felony” with a mandatory sentence of two years.

That is what New York City needs, and both Audrey Pheffer and Michelle Titus, our two Assembly members, should work to get the new bill passed.

It’s not going to be easy, however, because Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has so far refused to allow the bill to get to the floor for a vote. He has his own, watered-down version that I do not believe is half as good.

“These things have to be negotiated,” a spokesman for Silver told reporters when asked why he would not allow a vote on the governor’s bill. “We are all moving on a gun bill. The Senate [complaints] are just one hand clapping.”

Silver is wrong and he and the Democratic majority are soft on crime. It is time for the Assembly Democrats to worry less about race and more about safety.

In fact, it is past time to pussyfoot around the gun issue.

We can’t keep people from buying guns in other, less stringent venues. We can however make the penalties for doing so draconian as possible so that people will think twice of bringing guns into Rockaway.

It is clear that we should get the new bill passed as quickly as we can so that we can make our streets safer.

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