FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 7, 2006
MAYOR BLOOMBERG TAKES FIGHT AGAINST ILLEGAL GUNS TO CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE IN WASHINGTON, DC
The Following Is the Text of Mayor Bloomberg's Remarks
"Good afternoon. Thank you, Charlie, for that kind introduction - and for organizing this panel. I've had the pleasure of working with Charlie on a number of exciting projects, including a Commission that is bringing greater diversity to New York City's construction industry. He's been a great partner for our Administration and I'm honored to be his guest today - and to be here with all of you.
"I've also enjoyed working with Mayors Williams and Street, and it's a pleasure to have the opportunity to be here with Mayor Kilpatrick, too. I hear that Mayor Kilpatrick is tired of being called America's first hip-hop mayor, so let me say that with the first-ever VH-1 Hip-Hop Awards show coming to New York next month, I would gladly accept the title.
"We're here to talk about an issue that is priority number one in every city in America: public safety. Let me begin by throwing a couple of numbers out at you: 322 - that's the number of people who were killed in New York City last year by guns. 3,951 - that's the number of guns that we seized last year during arrests.
"From these numbers, you might think that New York City is a dangerous place - but nothing could be further from the truth. We are the safest big city in the nation - and safer than nine of ten small cities, too. That's something that we take pride in - because Charlie and I both remember the days when crime in New York was out-of-control.
"Over the past five years, we've reduced crime by more than 20 percent, and last year, even as crime rose in the rest of the nation, it continued to drop in New York. Today, crime is down to a 40-year low, and some of the biggest beneficiaries of those gains have been neighborhoods - like East New York, Bedford Stuyvesant, and Harlem - with large black populations.
"But the fact is, there are still too many innocent people getting killed on our streets with guns - and African-Americans continue to be the most frequent victims. In fact, 69 percent of all people killed by guns in New York last year were black, even though the black population of our city is only 27%. That's a shocking statistic - and it's completely unacceptable.
"When you look behind the statistic, the stories are heart-breaking. Some of the victims were very young children who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some of them were teenagers who were murdered for nothing - a cell phone, or a pointless argument. And some of them were adults who - all too often - were pillars of the community.
"This week, a young African-American member of the New York City Sanitation Department - Damon Allen - was senselessly shot and killed after he tried to protect others from a mugger. The gun that was used to kill him - just like the guns that are used in nearly every other murder in our City - was possessed illegally.
"If the laws of our nation had been properly and vigorously enforced, the murderer would never have had access to that weapon. But instead, illegal guns flow freely onto our streets and innocent people die as a result.
"This is not just the case in New York. Across the country, illegal guns are the common denominator of urban crime. It's a national problem that requires a national response, but Congress has been mostly silent.
"Why? For one thing, members of Congress do not see the harm that irresponsible dealers in their districts inflict on the residents of someone else's district. But that's exactly what happens. In New York City, for instance, about 90% of guns that are used in crimes come from out of state.
"Members of Congress are also not the ones who go to the hospital in the middle of the night when a police officer is shot and killed. They are not the ones who speak at their funerals, searching for words to somehow express the sorrow of a city. And they are not the ones the people hold accountable for the safety of their streets.
"All of these jobs rest with mayors like us - and so if Congress will not lead the charge against illegal guns, then mayors like Anthony, John, Kwame, and I must - and we are.
"Last April, Boston Mayor Tom Menino and I convened a summit on illegal guns attended by 13 other mayors - including Mayors Williams and Street. We share the same problem: a Congress that won't accept its responsibility to crack down on illegal guns. And so we came together to discuss common challenges, share best practices, and identify areas where we could work together.
"Because the fact is, we're all in this together. The same gun dealers and traffickers who are responsible for the guns that end up on the streets of New York, are also responsible for the guns that end up on the streets of Washington, DC, Philadelphia and cities across America. Since April, dozens more mayors - from every region of the country and both major political parties - have joined our coalition, including, I'm glad to say, Mayor Kilpatrick.
"Our coalition is bi-partisan because Republican mayors understand just as well as Democratic mayors that taking illegal guns off the street has nothing to do with ideology - and everything to do with law enforcement. One of the fundamental crime-fighting lessons we've learned over the years is this: you can't turn a blind eye to illegal activity, even when a crime may seem petty.
"Does a felon have a right to own a gun? No!
"Does a gun dealer have a right to sell to a felon? No!
"The 2nd Amendment does not give anyone the right to sell or possess a gun illegally. You would never know these basic facts listening to most of the politicians who call themselves 'Defenders of the 2nd Amendment.' By opposing common sense measures to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, they are instead defending - and perpetuating - deadly illegal activity.
"Unfortunately, they have been cowed - or duped - by an extremist gun lobby that believes any effort to prevent criminals from obtaining guns is an infringement of the 2nd Amendment. This is deceitful, and every day, in big cities and small towns, innocent people are paying the price.
"We know that convincing Congress to adopt a 'pro-law enforcement' position on the issue of illegal guns is not going to be easy. Today, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up three bills that would have the perverse effect of making it easier to conduct illegal gun trafficking, while at the same time handcuffing law enforcement officials by restricting access to 'trace data,' which is the information that tells us exactly where and when a gun was sold, and who bought it.
"One of the most important lessons our nation learned from 9/11 is how critical it is for law enforcement agencies to share information. And yet one of the bills, H.R. 5005, would prevent - and even criminalize - the sharing of trace data. H.R. 5005 also prevents the federal government from moving records of gun sales from microfilm to a searchable electronic database. In this day and age, when you have computers and cameras in cell phones, the only reason to leave information on microfilm is if you want to be certain that no one ever looks at it! It's ridiculous, but clearly that's the intention here.
"Another bill would allow out-of-state residents to purchase guns, which would blow open the illegal market and make it much easier for rogue gun dealers to sell illegally and for gun traffickers to make illegal purchases. Supporters of these bills say they are 'pro-2nd Amendment,' but that's just a transparent ideological cover. In fact, the bills are nothing more than attacks on law enforcement.
"Let's be clear: politicians that are soft on illegal guns are soft on crime. There's no two ways about it!
"The good news is that more and more gun owners are rejecting the extremist positions taken by the NRA - because they understand that the 2nd Amendment does not protect criminals, and should not prevent us from taking common sense measures to keep guns out of their hands. These law-abiding gun owners are our allies, and we cannot let the NRA or other groups use bogus arguments to divide all of us who are pro-law enforcement.
"When we formed the coalition of mayors back in April, the skeptics said, 'Illegal guns are a national problem. What can mayors really do about it?' That has been the conventional wisdom for the last several decades - but our coalition has started to challenge it.
"In New York, we have developed a three-pronged strategy for fighting illegal guns: tougher enforcement, new legislation, and innovative litigation. Let me briefly touch on each. Over the past five years, we have invested in management strategies that improve our ability to identify crime trends and prevent crime from occurring. Our strategies have allowed us to target our resources at what we call 'problem people and problem places.'
"For example, we created a program called 'Operation Impact' that identifies areas of the city with the highest incidences of shootings - we call them 'Impact Zones' - and floods them with teams of veteran and rookie police officers. The program has been an enormous success, but it is only part of our strategy to take illegal guns off the street. After all, it's one thing to be arrested for possession of an illegal gun, but if the courthouse has a revolving door, what good does it do? Those arrested will go right back to what they were doing, and their partners in crime will know that there's no risk in carrying an illegal gun.
"Four years ago, many of those arrested for illegal possession of a loaded firearm were getting off with probation, even though the law called for a minimum jail sentence of one year. To change this, we created specialized Gun Courts, with prosecutors and judges specially trained to handle gun cases. The Gun Courts have been an enormous success - increasing sentences and, together with Operation Impact, leading to a significant reduction in crime. In the Bronx, for instance, where we have established numerous Impact Zones as well as a Gun Court, shootings declined 11 percent between 2003 and 2005.
"The second part of our strategy has been to push for new legislation that further increases the risk of possessing an illegal weapon, and that will strengthen our ability to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. This year, we won passage of a state law that increases the mandatory minimum for illegal possession of a loaded gun to 3½ years. Now, the message couldn't be clearer: if you commit a serious crime, you're going to do serious time.
"We also adopted a new local law this year - the first of its kind in the nation - that creates a registry for gun offenders. New York and other states require sex offenders to register with the police because they pose a threat to their communities, and studies have shown these laws to be effective in reducing the recidivism rate of offenders. Gun offenders pose an equally serious threat - they are four times more likely than other felons to be arrested for a homicide. So now, in New York City, they will be subject to similar requirements. This will send a clear signal that the police are watching, and that any false moves will land them back in prison.
"Stronger enforcement and new legislation are a central part of our strategy to combat illegal guns, but the reality is, if laws in other states are not enforced, guns will continue to flood onto our streets. As I mentioned earlier, about 90% of the guns that we recover from crimes have been purchased out of state - and the majority of them come from a handful of bad apples that don't follow the law. If we have any hope of winning the battle against illegal guns, we have to find ways to prevent gun dealers from selling illegally to traffickers.
That's where the third part of our strategy comes in: innovative litigation - and in this area, we have drawn on the success of the NAACP's 1999 lawsuit against the gun manufacturers. The
NAACP's suit formed the backbone of New York City's suit against the manufacturers, which is still pending in federal court, and it helped inspire our latest effort: holding gun dealers accountable for following the law.
"Nationwide, a tiny fraction of gun dealers - about 1% - account for 60% of the guns used in crimes. If we are going to be successful in stopping the flow of guns onto our streets, we have to go after the problem dealers who make up this 1% - just as we are going after the problem people in our own neighborhoods.
"The gun lobby never tires of saying that preventing gun violence is a matter of enforcing the laws already on the books. We couldn't agree more! And since they asked for it, we're giving it to them! Not only are we aggressively enforcing the law against illegal possession of weapons in our city, we're aggressively trying to enforce the law against illegal gun sales.
"This spring, we identified dealers in five states whose guns ended up at crime scenes on our streets far more frequently than guns purchased at other shops, which is a good indication that those dealers were selling illegally. We conducted undercover buys with hidden cameras at these dealers. We found that some dealers were scrupulous in following the law, while others made sales that were blatantly illegal. We sued 15 that sold illegally. Their guns had been tied to more than 500 crimes in our city, including murder. But we didn't sue to put the dealers out of business; we sued to force them to comply with the law.
"I'm pleased to say that we have reached an unprecedented agreement with two of the 15 dealers, both in Georgia. It's a fair agreement that establishes a court-appointed 'special master' that will carefully monitor their sales practices and conduct inspections of their inventories and records.
"These are things the ATF should be doing - but Congress has severely tied its hands in a number of key enforcement areas. The special master will also have the authority to install surveillance cameras and to conduct undercover buys, to ensure that the dealers are fully complying with the law. If the dealers do not comply, they will face escalating financial penalties. If they do comply - for a period of three years - they will be given a clean bill of health.
"The two Georgia dealers made the right decision - they are becoming part of the solution. I have commended them for it, and I hope others will do the same. The reaction of the gun lobby to the agreement, however, tells you something. They have been aggressively urging the other 13 dealers not to accept the agreement - and some are threatening to boycott any that do.
"Imagine that: they would try to put gun dealers out of business for taking additional steps to ensure they comply with the law! It shows you how afraid they are of real enforcement. But if a dealer is committed to following the law, what's there to be afraid of?
"Finally, let me say that an important part of our success in reducing crime has been enlisting local communities as our partners. If the police do not have the confidence and support of a community, they cannot do their jobs well. We have worked hard to build trust between the police and the black community, recognizing that there have been ugly episodes of abuse. By improving police-community relations, we have also been able to improve the diversity of the NYPD. The most diverse city in the world deserves the most diverse police department, and the most effective police force needs to fully represent the communities it serves.
"In closing, I want to put all of the initiatives that I've talked about in the following context: As we work to crack down on illegal guns, we are also making enormous investments in those communities where guns are most prevalent, in order to give the next generation more opportunities to turn their back on violence, and to follow their dreams. That means - first and foremost - turning around our school system to ensure that all children get the first-rate education they need and deserve.
"And it means connecting those who are not college bound to good careers - which brings me back to the Construction Commission that I mentioned when I first began speaking, and which Charlie and I are working on together. By strengthening education, by connecting more people to job opportunities, and by putting real teeth in our laws, we can significantly reduce the demand for illegal guns. And by stepping up enforcement against gun dealers that break the law, we can significantly reduce the supply of illegal guns.
"By taking both approaches, I believe that we can reduce the presence of illegal guns on our streets, and we can continue to make our cities safer places to live and work. So with that, let me say that it's an honor to be part of this panel, and I look forward to listening to my colleagues and taking your questions."
Stu Loeser/Virginia Lam (212) 788-2958
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