NEW YORK—The first comprehensive legislation in the country to crack down on illegal trafficking of guns was revealed on Tuesday at a press conference at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. The legislation was authored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) who introduced the bill at the press conference.
A line of speakers attended the press conference, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
The Gun Trafficking Prevention Act creates legislation that stretches from top to bottom in tackling the illegal smuggling of firearms. It targets buyers, sellers, smugglers, organizers, and those conspiring to do so.
"The fact is that nearly 90 percent of the guns used in crimes in New York City come from out of state," said Gillibrand. "An estimated 90 percent of these guns are illegal."
In reference to kingpins who organize gun trafficking rings and others in the chain, Gillibrand added that the new legislation "makes it clear that these people are criminals and should be prosecuted."
The bill will allow the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to hire an additional 1,500 officers to track down illegal gun traffickers. It also creates new laws against trafficking firearms, and holds stiffer penalties against violators.
According to Senator McCarthy, the ATF currently has the same amount of people working on illegal gun trade as they did in 1966. With their limited staff, they are only able to investigate licensed gun dealers once every 7 to 10 years, despite current legislation that allows for annual investigation.
The addition of 1,000 special agents and 500 Industry Operations Investigators will allow them to conduct more regular investigations. The estimated cost of the bill over the next five years is $370 million, with $65 million requested for the first year.
In regards to current legislation, McCarthy added, "When you look at the laws in a lot of books, and certainly in the city in our state, shows that those laws aren't working."
On Monday, two men were charged with running a gun smuggling ring that ran from Florida to New York.
Although New York City is ranked as the safest big city in the country, gun violence still takes its toll. Last week, 15-year-old Vada Vasquez from the Bronx was shot in the head by a stray bullet while walking home from school and is still fighting for her life.
Mayor Bloomberg said that the officials are using "every possible means at our disposal" in fighting the flow of guns into New York City.
"That's important because gun trafficking is a very serious crime, yet the federal government has not been treating it as such," said Bloomberg. "Right now a person caught trafficking five kilograms of cocaine faces a minimum penalty of 10 years if convicted. The maximum penalty for anyone trafficking a illegal gun is only five years."
Bloomberg added, "Believe it or not, that's the same penalty for trafficking a stolen chicken. It's time gun trafficking crimes were taken seriously as drug trafficking crimes."
It is currently illegal for anyone to knowingly sell or give a gun to a disqualified person—a factor taken more seriously under the new bill. "The emphasis ought to be on enforcement of these laws, and that's where we're lacking," said NRA spokesperson Andrew Arulanandam in a phone interview. "What we don't need is more laws."
Arulanandam commented that such laws will not make criminals have a change of heart. "Yet people like Mayor Bloomberg think if they commit one more gun control law, criminals who commit heinous crimes like murder, rape, and worse will suddenly have this epiphany and start abiding by gun control laws," he said.
Under Bloomberg's administration, the toughest law in the country was passed against illegal possession of loaded hand guns, which carries a three year mandatory minimum sentence. A law that helps the NYPD to track gun offenders was also passed.
Shootings are down 6 percent this year and homicides are at a record low, with a 12 percent reduction since last year.
NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said this year the NYPD has made more than 5,300 arrests for illegal guns.
"I can tell you that every day the men and women of the police department put their lives on the line to get guns off our streets," said Kelly.
He added that most of the arrests came through the Gun Stoppers program which offers a $1,000 reward for anyone who reports someone with a gun, and that leads to an arrest.
The Gun Trafficking Prevention Act is a broad legislation. Under it, traffickers of guns can face put to 20 years in prison, in addition to a hefty fine. Kingpins who organize gun trafficking rings can face up to five years in prison. Those who conspire to traffic guns will be treated the same as those who actually traffic them.
A key point in the legislation is more flexibility for prosecutors and judges. Penalties can be increased depending on the number of guns trafficked. The ATF and the attorney general will have more options, including the ability to impose higher restrictions or revoke the license of gun dealers.
In regards to the nature of the new legislation, Bloomberg added, "Nobody is questioning the Second Amendment and your right to bear arms, nobody is questioning your right to go hunting. We're saying that if the federal government has a law that you can't sell guns to criminals or children, we should enforce that law."