Just found this rag at a pizza place in Deer Park, and I am glad that Long Island Press is virtually unknown!
Giving The Gangs Guns
Imminent Expiration Of Assault Weapons Ban Could Lead To More Violent L.I.
By Lauren Wolfe
Modified semiautomatic rifles like this one are legal even with the ban in place.
When the federal ban on assault weapons expires on Monday, Sept. 13, no one should be happier than gang members. Why not be happy when you can trade in a pistol for an Uzi? When the gun you will be able to easily get will have a large-capacity ammunition magazine, which allows you to continuously fire dozens of rounds without reloading, and a barrel designed to accommodate a silencer, or a bayonet? Everybody needs a bayonet.
"It's like the bling-bling of weapons," says Wes Daily, describing assault weapons and their accessories. He should know; Daily has spent the last 30 years as a detective on the Suffolk County police force working to combat gang violence. He has seen Long Island gang activity rise steadily. But he has also seen tangible positive effects of the 1994 ban on assault weapons, with gang members carrying less lethal guns. Now, he fears the ban's demise will bring more violence to our area.
"In their battles, they want bigger and better weapons, just like the military," Daily says of gangs. Right now, only the highly trained military and special operations units of the police can legally carry military-grade weapons. Otherwise, Daily says, "our police are not prepared to deal with that."
"Our cars, our bulletproof vests...we're not ready," he says of Nassau and Suffolk police.
Since its implementation in 1994, the ban has decreased the number of semiautomatics and other high-powered guns on the streets, thereby making Long Islanders safer, says Andy Pelosi, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. The bad news is that while there are fewer assault weapons on the streets, there are more gangs and gang members. Gang arrests more than doubled in Nassau County from 1999 through 2003 and more than tripled in Suffolk from 2000 to 2003, according to the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
Yet potentially, after Sept. 13, 2004, anyone will be able to purchase an assault weapon and bring it home to New York (under a 2000 state law, still in effect, it is illegal to possess or sell an assault weapon manufactured after the federal law was passed).
"Residents across the state are definitely safer with a ban than not having a ban," Pelosi says. "It's a constant threat, these types of weapons. They're more lethal. They're designed to hose down an area. You don't have to aim the weapon. You move back and forth in a sweeping motion, side to side."
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), who became an avid proponent of the assault weapons ban after her husband was killed and son seriously injured in the 1993 LIRR shooting, says gang violence will get worse once the weapons become legally available.
"Can you imagine a gang fight going on where they have large-capacity clips?" McCarthy asks. The clips carry 10 rounds. Citing a state law that limits hunters to clips of six bullets or fewer, she adds, "We give animals a better chance."
Large-capacity clips on semiautomatic weapons could have turned the June 21 shooting of teenagers on a Freeport porch even more deadly. On that night, a man on a mountain bike killed a 15-year-old girl with a handgun, and injured her 16-year-old friend. A third teen was unharmed—but sweeping spray from an assault weapon would likely have killed all three.
With the ban about to expire, police are not ready, but gang members probably are. Yet few members of Congress are doing anything to stop it. The 10-year law that prohibits the manufacture and possession of 19 kinds of semiautomatic weapons is about to die a quiet death—unless Congress acts quickly.
"The president of the United States has gotten everything that he's wanted through this House," says McCarthy. "It's now up to him."
Even so, the National Rifle Association has been lobbying so effectively that it just may have planted enough seeds of doubt about the value of the ban that Congress will not renew it. Bob Baumann, LI region director of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, the state affiliate of the NRA, argues that the ban is "fraudulent," that legislators don't understand the differences between types of guns well enough to be regulating them.
"They decided on which guns to ban by looking through advertising material, and the ones they didn't like the looks of, they decided to ban it," Baumann says.
Manufacturers have been producing "copycat" guns since the ban took effect, which Baumann says makes the ban moot anyway. And as for assault weapons falling into the wrong hands, he points to what he says are 20,000 firearms laws in the U.S.
"What good is another one going to do?" Baumann says. "We should be enforcing the law as it exists." [The NRA was actually founded on LI in 1872, with funding from New York State.]
McCarthy responds that 66 percent of gun owners say they don't need assault weapons on the streets, and that the country is safer after 10 years of the ban.
But for Baumann, safety includes personal protection, which he says means owning whatever kind of gun he feels is necessary for that.
"If somebody was offering to beat your head in with a table leg," he asks, "would you rather have a powder puff or an assault weapon?"
The Justice Department reports that the proportion of banned assault weapons connected to crimes has fallen by 65.8 percent since 1995. And a March 2004 study by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence ("On Target: The Impact of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Act") makes it clear: "The Federal Assault Weapons Act has contributed to a substantial reduction in the use of assault weapons in crime, despite the industry's efforts to evade the law through the sale of copycat guns."
"The NRA says we're going down a slippery slope," McCarthy says. "It's been 10 years and there's been no slippery slope."
Suffolk Detective Daily has no doubt that the expiration of the ban would be "extremely dangerous." Daily worries that gangs more than anyone else will take up assault weapons, much as they did before the ban took effect.
"Gangs would be at the top of the list, because of the nature of them—their disposable income from drugs allows them to buy the weapons," he says.
There is a cycle of money and guns and drugs, Daily explains: When fancier weapons are available, more money is needed, therefore more drugs hit the street. And there's little to prevent the cycle from going round and round until someone does something to cut it off.
"It's the old story," Daily says. "The guy with the most toys wins."
Published August 26, 2004