Gun Trafficking Blame Game

William T. Stachowski

December 08, 2005

Unfortunately, the death of NYPD Detective Dillon Stewart has become the political pawn of a public policy issue in the State Legislature that impacts the lives of all New Yorkers. At the heart of the matter is whether the current criminal statutes appropriately punishes the perpetrator who uses an illegal handgun in the commission of a crime. It is safe to say that the current statute is blatantly soft, unfair, weak, and sends the absolute wrong message.

Common sense dictates that this statute needs fixing. As rightly stated in the New York Post, if one is caught with as many as 19 ILLEGAL guns, it is barely a misdemeanor, no worse than shoplifting and the perpetrator would most likely see probation for his illegal activity. This is simply wrong and why we must stop blaming one and other and get down to the business in fixing this current soft-on-crime statute.

The legislative history is well documented. I first introduced this legislation in 2001 and passed it in the State Senate. However, the State Assembly took no action. It was reintroduced annually, until as hiatus in 2003 when the State Senate took it upon ourselves to try to work out an agreement with the State Assembly over their concerns with the legislation. This proved to be unproductive and working with Senator Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) the State Senate reintroduced the legislation in 2004-2005 to come down hard on gun-trafficking. Although it made it to the floor of the State Senate, there was an renewed effort to try to reach a consensus with the State Assembly which culminated in no productive agreement, nor further action on their part.

The Senate’s position on illegal gun trafficking is simple, yet firm. Our bill represents a tough approach to penalizing the possession or sale of multiple weapons that will enhance law enforcement efforts to keep illegal guns from coming into New York. We must reinforce our gun laws aimed at intercepting deadly and illegal weapons before they get into the hands of the individual criminals who use them. It amends the existing criminal possession of a weapon provisions to more severely penalize the possession of multiple weapons and the criminal sale of a weapon provisions to lower the number of required weapons and penalize aggregate sales.

Currently, only Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree, a class D felony, penalizes the possession of multiple firearms. The bill would reduce from twenty to three the number of firearms required to be possessed for a violation of this third degree offense, penalize the possession of five or more firearms and ten or more firearms. A similar reduction in the number of firearms required for a violation of the second degree, class C felony and first degree, class B felony offenses of criminal sale of a weapon are included in the legislation. Criminal possession of a weapon in the first, second and third degree, as well as criminal sale of a weapon in the second and first degree are all violent felonies, and, yet the third degree criminal sale of weapon is not currently a violent felony.

There is no logical or legal reason for this seemingly inconsistent approach. Therefore, the bill amends the existing third degree offense to designate sale of a single firearm as a class D violent felony offense. Finally, our bill recognizes that certain individuals who traffic in the sale of illegal weapons intentionally restrict the number of firearms that they sell in a single transaction, so as to avoid the stricter penalties. Our measure amends the law to eliminate this loophole used by savvy gun dealers, by amending the criminal sale of a weapon in the second degree statute to penalize the sale of five or more firearms in a one year period and the first degree statute to penalize the sale of ten or more firearms in a one year period. The Assembly’s proposal does not address this pivotal component in the current statute’s flaw.

For all involved in criminal justice issues in New York State, there seems to be a trend worth mentioning. From fixing the Death Penalty, to keeping Sexual Predators behind bars, to strengthening our illegal gun trafficking statutes, it continues to be the State Senate that is proactive and committed to protecting the law-abiding. A hint voiced by a former Democratic State Assemblyman and current State Senator rings with resounding sincerity and may reflect an institutional problem within the State Assembly "You have some staff.....whose only reason for living is to prevent tough criminal justice legislation from passing."

This begs the question. Why not let State Assemblypersons vote up or down on those public policy issues, in this case, strong on crime initiatives, that our on the front burner. That being fixing the Death Penalty, Civil Commitment of Sexual Predators, and strengthening our current weak gun trafficking statutes? Doesn’t the public have the right to know how their State Assemblyperson would vote on these important public policy issues? After all, it is the right thing to do and would bring back the confidence that is so sorely needed by the public in our democratic form of government.