STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- They are stashed in drain pipes, trash cans, mailboxes, abandoned-car trunks, holes carved in walls, shrubs, bushes, and even in baby carriages.
They're called "community guns" -- firearms stored in easy-to-access spots -- and figure in a large percentage of gun-related crimes on Staten Island, said officials and law enforcement sources.
Such weapons have also contributed to an increase in shootings this year in the borough, officials said.
To crack down on the scourge, the district attorney and several local lawmakers support newly proposed legislation that would make it a crime to share or make available a community gun.
"These illegal guns are time bombs," Donovan said Friday at a press conference in his St. George offices. "It's ironic that these stashed-away weapons are referred to as 'community guns,' because they are destroying our communities. It would be tragic if a 7-year-old went to find their ball in the bushes and shot someone or shot themselves."
The bill, introduced by state Senator Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn), would establish a Class D penalty, punishable by up to seven years in prison, for sharing, selling, exchanging or making available a community gun. It would also make the unlawful sale or transfer of a firearm that intentionally causes the death of another person, within a three-year period, a Class B felony, punishable by up to 25 years behind bars.
State Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) is co-sponsoring the bill, which is backed by District Attorney Daniel Donovan and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-East Shore/Brooklyn).
Golden said a person currently can be criminally charged if they give a gun to another individual who uses it in a crime. However, there's nothing on the books for community guns.
"Those making these illegal guns available are not being held accountable," said Golden. "Far too many people are dying due to these guns. We must advance our laws in New York to halt this pattern so to keep our streets safer for all citizens."
Donovan said there have been 30 shootings to date this year on the Island. That number matches the total of shootings for all of last year.
Officials said the number of guns the NYPD has seized on the Island has dropped in recent years -- from 130 in 2009, to 111 in 2010 and 92 last year.
Murders, however, are down -- to five thus far this year, four from gunshots. By comparison, the NYPD recorded 14 killings in the borough in the same period in 2011, seven from gunshots.
Community guns have been around for years.
But authorities believe the NYPD's stop-and-frisk tactics have fueled the "stash gun" trend. Criminals expect to be searched, so they're more likely to hide the guns nearby to avoid being caught with a weapon.
In one of the most chilling examples, 22-month old Samyah Bailey was shot in the eye in the courtyard of a Mariners Harbor apartment complex by a community gun grabbed by Damark King in September of last year.
"Somebody yelled, 'Get the gat' and everybody knew what that meant -- go get the stash-gun, the community gun," said Donovan.
The D.A. also said 20 members of a West Brighton gang used two community guns several years ago in dozens of shootings.
And in 2007, a 16-year-old fished a gun out of a garbage can in Brighton Heights and shot a 4-year-old in the leg, he said.
Lanza, a former prosecutor for the Manhattan district attorney's office, said getting community guns and the criminals who use them off the street is "a matter of life and death."
"Gangs, in particular, are using this method," he said. "This legislation targets the criminals."
Ms. Malliotakis said she plans to co-sponsor a similar bill in the state Assembly when the new session resumes in January.
"Illegally transferred weapons allow criminals to perpetrate violence without leaving paper trails," she said.
Published: Friday, October 05, 2012, 3:22 PM by Frank Donnelly