The names, mug shots and even the block where New Yorkers who are convicted of felony possession of a gun live on might soon be public information if the City Council passes a bill introduced last week.
State and city leaders stood in front of City Hall to herald the bill, introduced by Queens Councilman Costa Constantinides and colleagues, that would notify neighbors of any residents with felony gun convictions and create a searchable website for public use.
While the lawmakers see such a database as a tool to empower New Yorkers in the face of gun violence on the rise across the city, critics doubt the broadly defined bill will actually get illegal guns off the streets and will instead backfire on the city.
“Information is power,” Constantinides told Metro,” and the bill provides community with information.”
That information, the councilman added, was already being collected and monitored by the New York City Police Department.
Back in 2006, then Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed the Gun Offender Registration Act, which requires offenders to register themselves with the NYPD much the same way sex offenders already do.
Chicago, which continues to struggle with ongoing gun violence, launched its own public database in 2010.
In New York, the bill proposes much of that same information be publicly available through online search on a new website or by e-mail alerts residents can sign up for. It would not, however, publish the actually address of the offender and instead offer the block and vicinity.
“We don’t want people knocking on their doors, but we do want people to know who’s living in their neighborhoods,” Constantinides explained.
And unlike an iteration of the bill proposed by the previous council, it offers individuals a chance to get off the public list after four years of good behavior — a provision Constantidies said was added to quell concerns about stigmatization of offenders who are trying to put their pasts behind them.
The law also doesn’t directly target illegal guns so much as gun offenders, added longtime advocate for the registry Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., since crime statistics show they are more likely to commit a similar crime again.
“We are not apologizing for those individuals who have a felony gun crime,” Diaz added. “If they don’t want to go go through the embarrassment and be put out in the public, then my advice is just don’t commit the crime.”
It’s not as black and white for New York State Rifle & Pistol Association President Tom King. King said he understood the lawmakers’ intent, but that the good intentions open the door to problematic questions.
“The furthest thing from our minds is to have violent criminals possess firearms,” King said, “but we want to protect the honest individual who may get caught up in a misunderstanding from being labeled as a felon.”
One of the ambiguities in the proposed language is how underage offenders will be treated. Supporters of the bill told Metro that existing privacy protections for minors exempts offenders under 18 years of age, but the bill currently has no explicit language on such exemptions.
Council members are expected to debate the bill in a yet unscheduled hearing, but lawmakers said they expect little resistance to the bill’s passage. Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who sets the agenda for the Council, told reporters last week that she was undecided on the bill.
In 2013, before she was voted in as speaker, the Harlem leader stood with co-sponsors of the previous iteration at its announcement.
“These things always morph out of control,” King warned, pointing to last year’s controversial Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act gun control law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that gun rights advocates still vocally oppose.
Some local gun owners, including Seneca Sporting Range owner John DeLoca. DeLoca opened up the shooting range almost 40 years ago in Ridgewood, Queens and said he’s been a licensed gun owner since he was 21 years old.
While he want to stand up for anyone arrested with an illegal gun, DeLoca, 64, argued that a public registry of gun offenders “is not going to do a pile of beans.”
“Don’t you think we have enough laws and that we should try to enforce the ones we have?” DeLoca asked. “We have bigger fish to fry.”
Follow Chester Jesus Soria on Twitter@chestersoria