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Jumaane D. Williams Headshot

A Good Start

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Today, the New York State Legislature made a good start in tackling the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our communities. I want to thank Governor Cuomo who has championed this and the members of the Assembly and State Senate who voted for its passage. The urgency expressed in this effort was warranted, and it will be just as necessary going forward considering the lives that are at stake.

This legislation is a solid response to the mass shootings, but we also need to deal with the daily shootings. This crisis is not about semi-automatic rifles, though that is the palpable debate right now due to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. How many people in New York City are being shot by Bushmasters? The tragedies suffered by our communities come primarily from the barrel of a handgun, which is not the primary focus of this effort. As such, I doubt this package will address the crimes committed every day on our streets. We have been talking about gun violence for years before this current debate began, and I'm frustrated that this proposal doesn't reflect the depth of the problem. We have to show that all life is precious, whether from Newtown or East Flatbush.

That said, there are some positives within this agreement that deserve praise and appreciation. I am grateful that both owners of handguns and assault rifles will have to recertify their permits every five years, which will allow for the creation of a statewide electronic database. We should also be proud that New York State will become the first in the nation to track ammunition purchases in real time, which will help law enforcement follow high-volume sales. Additionally, the definition shift of an assault weapon from having two "military rifle" features to just one is a welcome change for which advocates have been lobbying.

The path forward to reduce the bloodshed of our sons and daughters is clear. To end gun violence in New York City, the State Legislature must next take up microstamping and background checks on gun dealers, measures that would truly impact the supply side of this crisis. At the same time, the demand side cannot be ignored; we need increased funding for programming like we have in the council's Anti-Gun Violence Initiative, which supports concepts like conflict mediation, mentoring and legal services.

We must also take serious steps to address mental health; this legislation only addresses the seriously and visibly disturbed, while basic counseling is a need for so many at-risk youth. In that vein, I hope that the new reporting requirements for doctors will not stifle the voices of those who might seek therapy. Finally, we must maintain the pressure for real action from Washington which would close gun show loopholes, repeal the Tiahrt Amendment and make gun trafficking a federal crime.

We can celebrate this legislation as an important first step, but that celebration must be brief. This opens the door for reforms that will undoubtedly save lives here in New York City. It's time for us to burst through that door.