As oppressive summer temperatures, heated protests, and frustrations about the spiking COVID-19 pandemic rise, so too does the incidence of gun violence in New York and elsewhere across the country. No matter the cause of this uptick or where you stand in the debate about guns, there is one thing we can all agree on: we must do all we can to keep illegal guns off our streets and any gun out of the hands of people who clearly should not have them.
The gun debate has been raging for decades. With every mass shooting on our streets or in our schools and with every senseless murder of an innocent child—like Davell Gardner, Jr., who was killed by a bullet while sitting in his stroller—there are strong statements from politicians and policy makers. Yet there has not been meaningful action on the national level. This repetitive cycle must end. We know there is a way to end gun violence, and while our federal leaders do not have the will, I encourage state leaders across the nation to do their part.
New York has a head start on most of the country. We have some of most progressive gun safety laws in the nation, including the recent expansion of the background check waiting period, the ban on bump stocks, and the passage of the Red Flag law which prevents individuals who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing any kind of firearm. These measures, which I have long supported, have helped curb the stem of gun violence, but clearly our work is not yet done.
Since becoming Attorney General in 2019, I have employed three distinct strategies to protect New Yorkers from gun violence: 1) advocating for states’ abilities to implement gun regulations; 2) removing guns from the streets through takedowns of illegal gun trafficking rings, targeted prosecutions, and gun buybacks; and 3) preventing online sales of partial guns and 3D printed guns. Just last week, my office succeeded in shutting down 17 websites that manufacture and/or sell guns and gun parts that could easily be assembled into assault weapons. These so-called “ghost guns” are built, marketed, and sold for one reason and one reason alone—to evade detection of dangerous, illegal weapons that could endanger the lives of New Yorkers.
Earlier this year, we took down two major gun trafficking rings that operated in New York City and Long Island. As a result of these takedowns, we were able to seize 48 firearms, including multiple assault weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
A rising majority of Americans—60%, according to a 2019 Pew Research poll—favor stricter gun safety laws. But, unfortunately, in a world where Mitch McConnell controls the Senate and Donald Trump sits in the White House, hope is slim for even the most commonsense public safety measures on the national level. But that does not mean we give up as state leaders. Every state should put politics aside and do what is best to protect their communities. Just as state leaders have stepped up to protect their constituents from the coronavirus pandemic, so must we step up to protect our constituents from the gun violence epidemic.
As the coronavirus continues to rage across the nation, gun sales are at new highs; unfortunately, so too is gun violence. In the absence of federal action, as New York State Attorney General, I will continue to do everything in my power to reduce gun violence across this state. We cannot afford to lose one more Davell Gardner, Jr. These senseless shootings are not only cutting short the lives of our young people, they are killing our future.
Letitia James is New York State Attorney General