In response to the sharp increase in shootings in Southeast Queens and citywide, state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Jamaica) announced last week what he said would be the toughest gun law in the nation.
The legislation would significantly increase the penalty for illegal possession of a weapon, taking it from a Class A misdemeanor carrying a one-year prison sentence to a Class B violent felony with a five-to-eight-year term.
He said the present penalty is insufficient and sends the wrong message to would-be criminals. “It says, ‘I can go away for a year ... and I’ll come back and I’ll have a badge of honor,’” Smith said, adding “This [new] piece of legislation is the harshest in the nation.”
He made a public plea to anyone who has an illegal weapon to turn it in at a gun buyback program held two days after the bill was announced, which netted more than 500 weapons [see separate story].
Smith made the announcement in Jamaica, near where a police officer was recently shot and wounded by a suspect who still remains at large. The lawmaker was joined by several mothers who had lost sons to gun violence.
Among them was Donna Hood. Her son Kevin Miller, 13, was killed by a stray bullet in 2009 as he walked home from school. “I’m here in full support of this new bill Senator Smith has been discussing for stronger gun laws,” Hood said. “I’m in full support of the gun buyback program.”
Sharon Plummer of Far Rockaway buried her son Shawn Owen Plummer, 18, last month. He was shot dead near Seagirt Avenue and Beach 28th Street in Rockaway on July 13 — an innocent bystander, she said.
“He was a good student,” Plummer said. “He wanted to be an automotive mechanic. He was not a thug on the street, not a gang member.”
Smith noted that gun violence has been steadily increasing and that if it keeps going at its present pace the number of shootings citywide will reach 1,600 this year. In 2010, there were 1,425 shootings citywide, Smith said. In 2011, that climbed to 1,465 and so far in 2012, there have been 1,204.
Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica), state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica), and City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) all joined Smith at the Aug. 16 press conference to express support for the bill.
“These are serious times and we need serious measures,” said Scarborough, who is introducing the companion bill in the Assembly. “We must send a message to those that use guns that you will be caught and you will go to jail for a long time. ... Let’s hope this is the beginning of a victory against gun violence.”
City Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton) said in an interview with the Chronicle later that day that while he understands the aim of the legislation, he did not agree with a one-size-fits-all approach to justice, meaning that “a first time offender should not be given the same punishment as a career criminal.”
On Monday, Smith countered by saying, “You should not be given a pass just because it is the first time you have been caught with a weapon. If you are in possession of a gun, I’m going to assume that you intend to hurt someone.”