Fran Reilly

Stephen Handelman of The Crime Report, at left, leads a conversation with Richard Aborn of the Citizens Crime Commission, Nick Suplina of Everytown for Gun Safety and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.

When it comes to violent crime, New York City has come a long way from the bad old days. The murder rate in 2017 was at its lowest point in several decades — 290 such deaths, compared to a high of 2,245 in 1990 — while the number of shootings clocked in at 789 incidents, another historic low, officials said.

And in a city and state with arguably strict gun laws, New York can sometimes feel insulated from the firearms debate raging across the country. But shootings persist — particularly in some of the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods — prompting advocates and law enforcement to devise new ways to combat violence. Meanwhile, proposals to change gun policies on the state and federal level have the potential to impact what’s happening here, experts say.

“New York is a miracle in terms of the ability to have reduced gun violence. It is literally a miracle,” Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said Wednesday during “New Yorkers Under the Gun,” a panel on gun laws and anti-violence policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, hosted by City Limits and The Crime Report. “I would not want to do anything to turn the clock back to those days when guns were all over the city and people were being killed.”

To Vance, co-founder of the Prosecutors Against Gun Violence coalition, the biggest threat to New York City when it comes to gun policies is the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, a bill under consideration in Washington, D.C. that would allow gun owners who legally carry a concealed weapon in their home state to legally do so in other states as well — despite the fact that different states can have very different licensing requirements.

“West Virginia, for example, has virtually no gun laws. And so a West Virginian could bring his or her weapon, or many weapons, to the city of New York,” Vance explained, calling the bill the National Rifle Association’s “number one legislative priority.”

“It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that that’s a dangerous thing. We are not like West Virginia. We are not a rural community,” he said, noting that millions of visitors from other parts of the country visit the city each year. “That is going to increase violence in New York City. We can’t have hundreds of thousands of guns coming into Manhattan without having an increase in risk to public safety, and increase of use of those firearms.”

Watch it: New Yorkers Under the Gun

Richard Aborn, president of the public safety non-profit Citizens Crime Commission, says it is the lax gun laws in other states that create a threat for New Yorkers. A 2016 report by the state attorney general’s office found that 74 percent of the guns recovered by law enforcement in New York came from other states.

“You see much higher rates of gun violence on a per capita basis in those states that have very weak gun control laws,” said Aborn, who said he would like to see a comprehensive set of federal gun laws passed so that “the conditions under which one could get and carry a gun are uniform.”

“The lack of that allows states that surround jurisdictions like New York or Chicago or Boston or New Jersey to be flooded with guns that come from outside of the city and outside of the state,” he said.

And while the Parkland shooting has ushered in a new wave of activism around gun control, experts say the passage of meaningful federal legislation is unlikely at the moment.

“The public discussion is going one way, but the politics in Washington D.C. is going the other way,” said Michael Palladino, head of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, who said the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act would create “a law enforcement nightmare,” if passed.

Nicholas Suplina, director of criminal justice policy and enforcement at Everytown for Gun Safety, says the lack of legislative action is largely due to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its fierce lobbying efforts.

We’re currently seeing “the most entrenched control of our elected officials by the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby,” he said during Thursday’s panel. “I don’t predict that changing with the current makeup.”

“The NRA is going legislature by legislature,” added Vance, pointing to states like Missouri, which passed a bill last year to allow most residents to carry a gun without a concealed carry permit.

There are signs, though, that the tide may be starting to turn, Suplina said. In the wake of Parkland and other recent mass shootings, a number of states have passed new gun laws, including traditionally firearm-friendly places like Florida.

Public outrage over gun violence is also driving new voters to the polls, he said.

“That’s a real promising moment.”

Fran Reilly

Jarrett Murphy of City Limits discusses street-level efforts to reduce violence with Liz Glazer of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, Heidi Hynes from the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center in the Bronx and Detectives’ Endowment Association president Michael Palladino.

Changing tactics to combat violence

While much of today’s public discourse on guns is focused on school shootings, advocates say there’s still plenty of work to be done when it comes to urban gun violence that’s less headline-grabbing — even in New York City, which officials hail as safer than ever.

Gun violence persists particularly in neighborhoods where it’s historically been an issue, like East New York and Mott Haven, said Liz Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

“If you were to look at the top 10 precincts that occupied the top of the shooting roster in the early 90s, and look at them last year, over half of them are the same,” she said. “And if I were to show you maps of where high asthma, high unemployment, low educational achievement is, it would be those very same neighborhoods.”

That knowledge has advocates and the city trying different approaches to combating guns than what was done in the past, when tactics primarily relied on law enforcement.

“You simply can’t arrest your way out of this. We wish we could. We tried that,” said Heidi Hynes, director of the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center in Crotona, an area that’s seen its share of violence — including a shootout in 2009 right next to the facility’s backyard, where children in the center’s after-school program were playing.

One of the newer tactics officials and advocates have adopted is the “Cure Violence” model, which treats gun violence as a public health threat, or disease. The city has built that model into its Crisis Management System, an anti-violence initiative which is now being used in 19 neighborhoods across the city that account for more than 50 percent of the city’s shootings, according to Glazer.

The initiative deploys “violence interrupters” to mediate street conflicts in order to prevent them from escalating, but also focuses on other, more holistic issues, including employment and mental health services.

“This intersection of violence and poverty is very real, and the antidote to it, are all these other things, which are work, play and a decent place to live,” Glazer said.

Hynes agrees, saying that any conversation about violence has “to start with the violence that is done sometimes even by the government to the people.”

“It is violence when we create housing policies that don’t allow people of color to get mortgages, or we defund a neighborhood,” she said.

Even today, in a New York City’s that’s ostensibly the safest it’s been in decades, gun violence endures.

“At the Mary Mitchell Center, everybody is on edge, all the kids. They don’t believe it will change, and it is not their job to fix it. It is our job,” Hynes said. “These are children afraid of being shot, and it is not their problem.”

6 thoughts on “New York’s Drop in Gun Violence a ‘Miracle,’ But Threats Persist, Experts Say

  1. Pingback: New York's Drop in Gun Violence a 'Miracle,' But Threats Persist, Experts Say – Feedz

  2. Gun violence comes from criminals knowing they can never get back on the right track after messing up once in there lives once you have a record you seem not to care only survival of the fittest and show them you can change your life is what they need now gun owners have the rights to carry that a GOD GIVEN right and should not be taken away for people that is doing right the way to stop killings is to show them that we care and want to help them get there lives back and for the kids shooting up schools we need to start making parents responsible for not locking up there guns and letting them whoop there kids not beat them to death but punish them like back in the old days if you notice once the government pass the law you can’t hit your child when they do wrong you have to punish them another way that’s why they out here doing what they want it starts from home first we need to change this law so we can punish our children the right way show them right and wrong way of becoming a better person mentally and physically

  3. Don’t worry only libtards are
    left in New York. Now law abiding
    citizens in NYC can’t leave home
    with their firearms. Only the criminals
    have free reign over the city because
    because guess WHAT safe act!!!! Criminals
    don’t give 2 shits about a law banning
    hi capacity magazines or rifles with
    detachable mags. The thugs say I’ll
    own what I want when I want. They don’t
    care about any law you Libtards make.
    They do as they please.

    All the smart conservative New Yorkers live with me in Florida where if someone
    is trying to rob, rape, or kill you you have
    the right to use deadly force. Which in New York just as in Miami there’s lots of armed robberies, rapes, violent assaults, and murder. You can be a victim and listen to libtards who think the only weapon a civilian needs is a cell phone to call police
    OR you could defend yourself against the ghetto society. With a cell phone you’ll call after you’ve been attacked or someone else calls for your dead corpse. If you’re armed
    you have half a chance in big city America.

    The criminals here in Florida have every weapon under the sun. Use your brains!!!

    • Violent crime rate per 100,000 in 2017 per FBI Uniform Crime Statistics

      Florida 408.0
      New York 356.7

      Golly! Looks like things are actually SAFER up here where I don’t have a gun to defend me against the “ghetto society.”

      Enjoy your fear!

  4. “It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that that’s a dangerous thing. We are not like West Virginia. We are not a rural community”.

    Hmm… but NYC gun laws will work in W.Va. & the rest of the country?

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