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Boro’s advocates add voices to gun debate

Dawn, from Westchester County, dropped off guns belonging to her late father at a gun buyback in Queens earlier this year.
TimesLedger Newspapers

The shooting of 26 people at a school in Newtown, Conn., has sparked a national debate on gun violence, and while opinions in Queens differ on the role regulation will play in preventing another tragedy, there is a consensus that it would be only one part of a multi-faceted solution.

“The phenomenon keeps occurring,” state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) said. “We’ve had more than three strikes and we need to act now.”

Earlier this year the senator introduced a nine-point plan comprised of community-based and legislative initiatives aimed at curbing gun violence, including tougher gun laws and limiting access to criminals or those with mental illnesses.

Smith revisited his call for comprehensive reform last week after the vice president of the National Rifle Association said armed guards should be placed at schools across the country.

“I could barely believe what I was hearing,” he said. “We need to work toward a comprehensive and responsible approach to gun-control legislation.”

In 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found New York state to be the largest source of close to 4,000 guns recovered by law enforcement from crimes throughout the city, and Smith said state laws should be aligned with those in New York City, which has some of the toughest in the country.

He also said recent high-profile shootings have revealed a need for more services for the mentally ill.

“There’s a mental health component as well,” he said. “Obviously some of the shootings across the country show some challenges with mentally ill individuals.”

City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), a member of the Council’s Mental Health Committee, said the Newtown tragedy revealed a failure in the mental-health support system.

“In this particular instance this individual slipped through the mental-health cracks,” he said, adding that each year the city’s mental-health budget faces a fiscal crisis that defies logic. “And this is a horrible tragedy that defies logic.”

Halloran favors the federal government stepping in by requiring all states to provide criminal and mental health information to the FBI’s criminal background check system, but warned against legislation that would affect law-abiding citizens more than criminals.

“People who go apply for licenses are not the ones committing crimes. You don’t remedy a criminal violation by taking away people’s rights,” he said. “I’ve been a lawyer long enough to know that anyone who reacts during crisis hasn’t taken a second to take a deep breath and look objectively at the future.”

Last week, the Council Task Force to Combat Gun Violence released a number of recommendations, including instituting a crisis-management pilot program in South Jamaica, which has the most shooting incidences in the borough.

“What we wanted to do was create a system that addresses these problems. You can’t address them in a vacuum by itself,” said Erica Ford, founder of LIFE Camp and I Love My Life and a member of the task force.

Ford said she has seen tremendous results from counseling youth to address the problems leading to gun violence, and commended the Council for committing more than $4 million for the pilot program.

“The time is right,” she said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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