Monday, January 4, 2010

Taking On Guns in NYC

New York's City Council is preparing to increase penalties for the sale of toy guns that resemble real guns and to take action against those that make real guns appear to be toys. Their efforts are laudable and should be combined with increased gun buyback activity.

Toy Gun Penalties Likely to Rise

As we begin this new year, an old legislative priority of the New York City Council will return to its agenda. In the closing days of 2009, Brooklyn City Council member Al Vann and Speaker Quinn announced their intention to impose 500% greater fines on vendors who sell toy guns that appear to be real guns. The City Council will address the proposed legislation early this year.

There have been far too many deaths around the US caused by law enforcement officers mistaking toy guns for real guns; in fact, any such deaths are too many. The use of realistic toy guns is also dangerous because it glorifies gun ownership and promotes the glorification of life-ending violence.

While New York City has collected more than 7,000 illegal toy guns and collected nearly $2.5 million in fines since 2002, the new legislation would increase the incentives for retailers to avoid selling illegal toy guns by raising the fines for selling realistic-looking toy guns to $5,000 from $1,000 for a first offense and to $8,000 from $3,000 for additional offenses. It would also allow the city to close stores for five days after three offenses occur within any 3-year period. These are penalties that are easy to avoid - simply refuse to carry toy guns in one's store, and the problem is solved. Bright colored toy guns remain permissible, but that provision creates a new concern.

Brightly colored real guns that appear to be toys are a new threat, and the city council needs to develop aggressive programs to prevent gun owners from coloring them to look like toys. To highlight the dangers of realistic-looking toy guns as well as real guns that are painted to appear like toys, New York City has launched an ad campaign that covers 2,100 subway cars, all 468 subway stations, and more than 5,400 buses.

Gun Buy-Back Programs

Real guns that appear to be real guns are still the largest threat to the safety of New Yorkers and to local law enforcement.

In October 2008, the Manhattan District Attorney, Robert Morgenthau, and the NYPD collaborated on a gun buyback program in Upper Manhattan that resulted in the collection of more than 700 guns by the NYPD. We need to bring back the gun buyback to Upper Manhattan.

The program succeeded because it included Upper Manhattan's churches and because the program did not require those turning in guns to make themselves subject to arrest. The decision to allow guns to be turned in without the threat of arrest or prosecution, and the decision to pay $200 per gun (up to $600 per person) combined to create an explosion of gun collection activity, despite the fact that the guns would be worth far more than $200 in the "street" marketplace that plays such a large role in gun sales in the New York City.

Our new Manhattan District Attorney, Cy Vance, and the NYPD would be smart to initiate another gun buyback program in 2010.

It has been 14 months since the extremely successful buyback day in Upper Manhattan, and we are ready for a new one.

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