The popular National Rifle Association defense “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” leaves out a key technicality: it’s the bullets that do the killing.
This idea is at the heart of a new bill and resolution introduced last Friday by Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) that seeks to make it harder for unlicensed rifle and shotgun owners to get ammunition.
The Ammunition Control Act, co-sponsored by Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), would require shotgun and rifle owners to present detailed information about their weapon—including make, model, manufacturer’s name and serial number—each time they purchase ammunition.
Currently, rifle and shotgun owners are only required to have a permit, which is more general than a license and allows owners to buy bullets for guns other than their own. The new law would close this loophole, bringing rifle and shotgun owners under the same strictures as handgun owners.
Ammunition sellers would also be required to keep records of these sales as detailed as those they currently keep for handgun bullet sales, and make them available to police.
Sanders’ inspiration in drafting the legislation came from Cambria Heights resident Elizabeth Goldsmith, who founded the non-profit organization Mothers Against Guns after losing two godsons and a nephew to gun violence.
“I was deeply moved by her stories of personal loss and her work with Mothers Against Guns. She believed that if the city were to more strictly regulate who is permitted to purchase ammunition, we could make it more difficult for criminals to commit acts of gun violence while setting an example for the rest of the country,” Sanders said at a press conference at City Hall.
He also introduced a resolution calling on New York State to pass a law, currently in the Assembly, to restrict handgun ammunition sales to licensed handgun owners, bringing the state’s handgun ammunition laws up to the level of the city’s.
“I really feel this is the first step to deterring crime in New York,” Goldsmith said.
She submitted a proposal for a bill restricting the purchase of ammunition to the City Council, State Senate and State Assembly in 1998, and worked side-by-side with Sanders in drafting the legislation. Although it took five years to see public results of her lobbying efforts, she still expressed surprise and delight at the support that elected officials were showing for the “common sense” bill.
Goldsmith grew up in rural Maryland, a place “like the western frontier,” she said, where hunting with guns was a legitimate source of food and sport for many people. But her opinion of firearms began to change in 1988, when her 19-year-old godson, Nathaniel Rowe, was shot and killed in Washington, D.C.
Although she was shaken by the incident, she said, “At the time, the full impact of the rapidly increasing national gun violence seemed insignificant to me.”
Then, in 1994, she lost another godson to guns, this time much closer to home. Curtis Purnell Williams, 27, was working as a security officer at a nightclub in Jamaica when a disruptive guest who was asked to leave responded by shooting “Purnell” 17 times. “It was while writing Purnell’s obituary that I realized I was a mother against guns,” she said.
By the time she lost her sister’s son, Ricardo Bishop-Wilkins, to gun violence in 2000, her activism was well under way.
Under the mantra that “enough is enough,” Goldsmith and officers Lorraine Kirkpatrick, Velma Matthews, Ann Williams and Darius George work to promote awareness of gun violence, support victims’ families and lobby policy makers for tougher anti-gun legislation.
Her main message is that people must unite with others, such as the anti-gun organizations that participate in the Million Mom March, to end the epidemic of violence.
Recently, the network has extended overseas. Lucy Cope, from London, formed her own organization called Mothers Against Guns after losing her son to gun violence. When she found Goldsmith’s organization through an Internet search, she contacted her American counterpart and travelled to the MAG headquarters in Cambria Heights to make a documentary about her.
Citing the old adage that “an idle mind is the devil’s playground,” Goldsmith hopes that MAG will soon be able to secure funding for an after-school program called Believers, United, Loving, Learning and Enduring Together, or BULLET.
In the meantime, although she considers the introduction of the bills and the resolution a major victory, she continues to call for the enforcement of current gun control laws.
“Law enforcement has been very lax,” she said. “People have not been doing the proper background checks, not observing the waiting period, not tracking the weapons. If the laws were being enforced, many lives would have been saved.”
Donald Spallone, owner of the Woodhaven Rifle and Pistol Range, sympathizes with the impulse behind the bills, but thinks they are “basically a waste of time.”
“We are already highly regulated. Most of our sales are to policemen, retired policemen and hunters during season who want to go upstate. If you are regulating people who are legitimately licensed, why would they go and do something illegal?” he said.
However, anti-gun activists are optimistic that the city bill, should it become law, will help keep bullets out of the thousands of illegal guns that are trafficked through the city each year.
Andy Pelosi, executive director of New Yorkers Against Guns, pointed to one example of an ammunition sale that would be stopped by the city bill.
Right now, through an online gun seller called www.johnjovinogunshop.com, any person can purchase rifle bullets simply by clicking “I agree” on a form that denies that the buyer is a convicted felon or under 21.
“People are concerned about the ease by which people can buy and use guns,” Vallone said. “Hopefully, this is something that will ensure that the people who should own guns do, and those who should not own them have a hard time using them.”