In most years, residents of Albany County view August as a time of rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, this year, August was a month of mourning for the residents of Albany County. Violence throughout the city and county of Albany this month left more than a dozen injured and several dead. In these unrelated shooting incidents, only one common thread exists: the use of illegal guns.
Those of us who live in Albany County have long known that illegal guns are the tool of choice for criminals who perpetrate depraved acts of violence. Statewide and nationwide, this is supported by statistics: a 2016 report by the Office of the New York Attorney General indicates 74 percent of the weapons recovered by law enforcement used in criminal activity were possessed illegally. A report issued by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2016 indicated more than half of state and federal prisoners who had used a firearm during their offense possessed it illegally.
Illegal guns are destroying our communities, tearing families apart, and wreaking havoc throughout society. In my view, lawmakers have unfortunately tried to shift the blame of gun violence on to responsible, legal gun owners, of which there are tens of thousands in Albany County. I am not opposed, in principle, to legislation which intends to keep the public safe. My issue is with legislation which substitutes groups of perpetrators for law abiding citizens, not only on moral grounds but due to the fact that such legislation will inevitably be ineffective.
Stopping illegal guns begins with acknowledging that they are the primary implement used in gun violence in our county and state. I have recently introduced legislation, the SIGN (“Stop Illegal Guns Now”) Law, which requires notice of the danger of illegal guns to be distributed by certain Albany County agencies. These notices include information stating that one cannot be prosecuted if they surrender an illegal gun willingly. It is my hope this legislation will encourage residents to come forward and hand over these illegal guns.
Legislation like mine is a small first step in the right direction. Lawmakers at every level should commit to supplying local police departments with additional resources, including personnel, to trace the source of illegal guns and stop perpetrators of these crimes before they create new groups of victims. Like my legislation, schools should be warning students of the true danger that illegal guns create in our society. We need a holistic, society-wide approach to stopping these problems. Like many other issues, I do not believe government has all the answers on this issue — but our leaders should, at the very least, acknowledge that it is illegal guns, not law-abiding gun owners, that are destroying our communities.
Albany County Legislature