The news reports are so frequent now, we can’t even fully respond to one act of gun violence before another tears through a community somewhere in our nation. From mass shootings in Texas and Alabama to shootings right here in Queens, every community is at risk and nowhere is immune. There have been 96 shootings so far this year in Queens, including a 90% increase over last year in North Queens. One hundred and twelve people have been directly victimized by gun violence in our borough in 2019.
These incidents differ greatly from some of the mass shootings occurring across the country, but every incident of gun violence is a tragedy.
It is beyond time that Congress ban assault weapons and expand background checks. But we know that the Trump administration and the GOP leadership in Congress, in perpetual thrall to the NRA, will refuse to act. Until that changes, this will remain a crisis we need to address ourselves. We will utilize every tool we have to get guns off our streets prevent gun violence.
Gun violence is a public health crisis, and when I become Queens district attorney, I intend to implement community-based solutions that will prevent violence. We will treat gun violence like the infectious disease that it is — by interrupting the spread, engaging those at the highest risk and changing community norms.
The first step is building on the partnerships I developed as Queens borough president, with groups who understand that gun violence is a public health issue for which we need to address the systematic causes. By utilizing the Cure Violence model, trusted community members become “violence interrupters,” specifically trained to detect potential shooting events, mediate conflicts and help people stay safe.
Statistics show that these programs can add up to long-term solutions to gun violence. Queens County has phenomenal Cure Violence groups that work every day to get guns out of the hands of our young people and to interrupt the cycles of violence that lead to shootings in our borough, and they need partners in government.
Even as we press ahead aggressively on that track, we must move swiftly and surely to get more guns off the streets. My office will use seized asset funds to launch a 24/7 Gun Free Queens Initiative — a universal gun buyback program that will allow a person to drop off a gun at any precinct, at any time. And I am eager to look for opportunities to implement New York’s new red flag law, in which my office or the police will petition the courts to force domestic abusers or other individuals who are a threat to the safety of themselves or others to surrender their guns.
While we cannot change other states’ laws, we can fight back against gun traffickers. And we will: Between 2010 and 2015, 87% of the recovered guns in New York City were from out of state. We will aggressively investigate and prosecute gun trafficking cases so that they are held accountable.
My office will work with DAs from across the city, state and the country to share data to better track firearms and set up sting operations. We will send a clear message: Illegal guns are not welcome in Queens, and if you bring them here, you will be held accountable.
While we address the crisis in Queens, we need continued support from legislators in Albany. Specifically, lawmakers must pass a ban on possession of a firearm for those convicted of a violent crime, a hate crime or domestic violence; mandatory reporting of firearm thefts, and increased penalties for traffickers and straw purchasers of firearms.
In a perfect world, our children would never hear gunshots in our neighborhoods. I would never have to sit with my children and desperately try to make them feel safe after a Sandy Hook, a Columbine or any other school shooting. But we don’t live in that world, so preventing gun violence and addressing its systematic causes will be one of my top priorities as district attorney.
Katz is the Queens borough president and Democratic candidate for Queens district attorney.