A Jamaica church received a bountiful assortment of weapons at a gun buyback held Saturday — 509 to be exact — way more than the last such event, held in June, which only yielded a cache of 55.
The secret of its success was an aggressive advertising campaign and the threat of a longer jail sentence if caught possessing an illegal weapon, according to state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Jamaica), who helped organize the event and has proposed what he calls the toughest gun law in the country.
The legislation, which Smith announced last Thursday, 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 [see separate story].
“The bill clearly had an effect on the buyback,” Smith said Monday. “No one wants to go to jail for eight years.”
The firearms surrendered at St. Jerusalem Baptist Church were 245 revolvers, 168 semiautomatic pistols, five sawed-off shotguns, two assault weapons, 35 rifles, 26 shotguns and 28 others including zip guns, BB guns and starter pistols, according to police. Some notable weapons included an AK 47; TEC-9; and a Calico 9-mm with a 50-round magazine.
“Unfortunately, there are many more guns on the street,” Smith said. “I think we have only seen the tip of the iceberg, but if we can save just one life, then that’s a good thing.”
Homicides have increased 28.6 percent in the southern Queens area in the past year while elsewhere in the city they have declined dramatically, according to the Queens District Attorney’s Office. In addition, shooting incidents in Queens South have risen by 22.2 percent, the third highest jump in the city.
“The combination of easy access to guns, violence fueled by disputes between rival gangs and competing criminal enterprises vying for turf, decreases in police resources in high-crime neighborhoods and community reluctance to cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes has contributed to a sudden, deadly increase in gun violence in recent weeks — especially in Southeast Queens,” Queens DA Richard Brown said in a prepared statement.
Brown and area leaders announced Friday a plan which the group hopes will reduce shootings. The first step, they say, is to spread a message on nonviolence through sermons, community rallies, events, lectures and concerts. They also plan to do more to let the public know that individuals can return a gun at any police precinct anytime for a cash payment of $100.
The coalition plans to develop a public relations campaign encouraging community members to report illegal guns and violent crimes and cooperate with law enforcement. They also want to implement a variety of mechanisms to facilitate that communication and will work on building police-community trust.
They support legislation that will limit access to assault weapons, handguns and high- capacity ammunition clips by criminals and individuals with mental illness, as well as the enforcement of existing gun laws.
Other plans include creating youth programs, increasing police resources at high- crime precincts, shutting down illegal businesses, limiting the hours of all-night establishments that they say are breeding grounds for criminal activity and providing residents with information about existing safety programs and services and how to access them.
Elected officials who have already pledged their support of the plan are: Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), state Senators Malcolm Smith (D-Jamaica) and Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica), Assembly members Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village), Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica), Michele Titus (D-South Ozone Park), and Bill Scarborough, City Council members Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) and James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton), along with Queens Borough President Helen Marshall.