By Sam Spokony
In the wake of a recent shooting outside an East Village housing complex, local lawmakers gathered alongside community leaders last Friday to call for a special legislative session aimed at passing statewide gun control measures that would make New York’s gun laws the strongest in the country.
At the heart of that argument was a bill requiring the use of a new techonology called microstamping, which passed the state Assembly in June but has been held up by the state Senate’s Republican majority since being introduced in 2011.
State Senator Daniel Squadron, one of the sponsors of the microstamping bill, as well as other currently stalled gun control legislation, led a press conference outside Campos Plaza at E. 12th St. and Avenue C — the site of the shooting — to call for the emergency Senate vote, while also condemning gun industry lobbyists. The Oct. 1 shooting injured one man and is still being investigated.
“There’s no issue more important than this right now,” Squadron said, “and we need to pass these basic, commonsense laws that would make our streets safer.”
Microstamping uses lasers to stamp a numeric code onto bullet shell casings, theoretically making it easier for police to track individual casings left at a crime scene back to the gun — and the shooter — that fired them. The scheme has been met with strong opposition from Second Amendment advocates across the nation, and in recent months some major gun manufacturers have threatened to leave New York if statewide legislation requiring the new technology were to pass.
California is currently the only state to have passed a microstamping law, but it is not actually in use there because, since 2007, the law has been held up on technicalities.
“The gun lobby opposes this because they believe any law that places restrictions on any gun seller or purchaser is a bad law, and we’ve seen the violent effects of that thinking over and over again,” said Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a sponsor of various statewide gun control measures, at Friday’s press conference. “People who oppose these laws need to stop victimizing communities at the behest of a wealthy industry, one that basically pays for the kind of violence that we see every day on streets like this.”
But Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, attempted to cast doubts on the new technology’s effectiveness while accusing Squadron and his supporters of grandstanding in the wake of the East Village shooting.
“These lawmakers are misrepresenting the whole issue,” King said. “If Squadron and the others were actually interested in keeping people safe, they would spend more time making sure that the state’s current antigun laws are being enforced, and that gun criminals are given the maximum prison sentences.”
The gun advocate also claimed that microstamping simply “doesn’t work,” and that any legislation requiring it would have a negative impact on licensed, law-abiding gun owners.
Squadron stressed on Friday that implementing the new technology — as well as passing other gun control measures, like an expansion of the current assault weapons ban and a limit on the number of firearms someone can purchase per month — would not affect licensed hunters or other lawful gun owners, and that micro- stamping would cause the price of each gun to increase by no more than $12.
“There’s a real need for it, and claims about excessive cost are irrational,” said Jackie Hilly, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. “The system we use now only gives us about a 2 percent chance of identifying the gun for a given shell casing, and microstamping would make that process at least 25 percent more effective.”
Advocates on both sides of the issue have presented various “expert” studies that either support or discredit microstamping technology, which was invented in the 1990s by an engineer named Todd Lizotte.
Hilly was citing a study published in the spring by Iowa State University’s Ames Laboratory — in collaboration with Lizotte himself — showing that micro- stamping could be up to 97 percent effective in some cases.
The New York Police Department did not respond by press time to a request for comment on the issue of microstamping and other gun control measures.
At Friday’s press conference, Dereese Huff, Campos Plaza Tenant Association president, implored lawmakers to heed Squadron’s call for a special session and quickly pass gun control legislation.
“Our children and family members are dying from the violence. How long should we continue to bury our own families and friends?” Huff asked the gathering. “As a tenant leader, I see the pain and fear in the faces of my fellow residents. I hope that our lawmakers hear our voices, our chorus of pain, and act quickly to protect us from the dangers of uncontrolled gun sales.”
But after speaking to the public, Huff told this newspaper that what she wants most of all is the increased police presence that public housing tenants have been seeking for years, alongside other security measures, like surveillance cameras and functioning locks on the buildings’ front doors.
These concerns have been highlighted multiple times over the past year, as the New York City Housing Authority continues to sit on $42 million of taxpayer money specifically earmarked for security upgrades. NYCHA is also the only landlord in the city required to pay for policing its property, and has paid more than $70 million annually for those services since 1994, as the result of a memorandum of understanding with the N.Y.P.D.
An unexpected presence on Friday was that of Brad Hoylman, the Democratic candidate for the state Senate seat soon to be vacated by Tom Duane. Hoylman spoke at the press conference, even though he will not officially take the seat — he is running unopposed — until Jan. 1, 2013.
“It would be great to pass these bills before you have a chance to vote on them, by going for a special session,” Squadron told Hoylman. “But if we can’t, I know you’re going to be one of the leaders once you get to Albany.”