New York Gun Violence Casts a Long Shadow

February 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Rick Karr reports from Crown Heights on a small group’s strategy to reduce gun violence and to address the connection between poverty and gun crimes.

New York  has a long history of gun violence and stiff laws to combat it. In 1911, it became the first state to enact gun control laws following a gruesome daytime shooting in Manhattan that year.

Today’s new laws in New York are among the toughest on the books yet firearms continue to find their way into the region and end up in the hands of criminals. Although the murder rate in the city dipped to its lowest in years, some groups are still fighting an uphill battle on the streets.

One such group is Save Our Streets (S.O.S), which uses personal intervention to try to prevent conflicts that could escalate into gun violence. MetroFocus correspondent Rick Karr visited their Crown Heights offices where he spoke to Marlon Peterson, a coordinator for the group, who explained how his group works with people considered high risk gun abusers.

Despite their efforts and other strategies like gun buy-backs, weapons still cause deaths and wreak havoc on certain low-income neighborhoods like Crown Heights, Brownsville and East New York.

“[O]ur biggest concern in New York City is not assault weapons but illegal, concealable handguns,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in his 2013 State of the NYPD address. “They’re used in approximately 65% of the murders committed in New York City.”

Phil Jonas, a board member at New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, told Karr, “We have now an iron pipeline up I-95 from states with very, very lax gun laws up into New York, which has the best gun laws in the country.” Like other gun control advocates, Jonas believes that enforcement of background checks and registration across the country will help reduce the number of guns entering urban areas.

The environment where gun violence occurs is also a huge issue. Kelly said in his address that 96% of people who were shot, and 90% of those murdered, were in minority neighborhoods.  These neighborhoods also have high unemployment rates and low median incomes, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. For example, in Brownsville, the median income for an individual is just shy of $16,000 and the 2010 murder count for that neighborhood was 28 people, according to DNAinfo’s Crime and Safety Report.

Peterson underscored how much money contributes to crime. “It’s the situation, the environment that’s really fueling the problem,” Peterson said. “When you have people who don’t have access to, you know, first-class education, you have high unemployment, people have been poor for generations.”


Gun crime has a deep history in the region.

In 1911, State Senator Timothy Sullivan spearheaded New York’s first gun control law, which some historians speculate was a response to gang control, since he represented a district with Italian and Jewish crime groups.

Senator Sullivan was known in most circles as “Big Tim,” a vital force in Tammany Hall.

Gangs remained a fixture in the New York and tri-state area. In the 1920s, gang activity, lead by the Italian mafia,  brought waves of violence.

During the 1970s and 1980s, crime again increased in the city, possibly linked to the economic downturn during that time. Homicides peaked in 1990 with the NYPD registering 2,245.

In 2012, the NYPD reported a record low 414 homicides, 237 of which were committed by firearms.