Thursday, the conservative-dominated Supreme Court struck down New York’s handgun permit requirement, a century-old common-sense safety measure that keeps guns out of the hands of people who pose a threat to our city. It is a dangerous and unjustified decision, but sadly not a surprising one.
I know what it’s like to get the news that a family friend was killed a block over, or that your teenage neighbor was shot two floors below you. Gun violence is personal to me, like it is to so many people in New York and throughout the country.
From Buffalo to Uvalde and from Sunset Park to the Campos Plaza in the Lower East Side, gun violence has torn apart families and devastated entire communities. It is, disgracefully, a uniquely American ritual that has become a daily onslaught, and we cannot afford to go numb in the face of the gun violence epidemic. Crises like these demand action. Survivors and victims of violence deserve real change. All of us have a right to be and feel safe.
That is why I have begun working to introduce legislation in the City Council for a citywide gun buyback initiative, so we can reduce the number of guns in circulation and save the lives of as many New Yorkers as possible.
Gun buybacks have been proven to work and conducted successfully by local anti-violence organizations and religious institutions. Prior gun buybacks have been supported by Attorney General Letitia James, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and the City Council’s Task Force to Combat Gun Violence. In light of the current situation around gun violence, the Supreme Court’s reckless dismantling of New York’s current handgun restrictions, and Republican obstruction of even basic gun violence prevention laws, now is the time for New York City to use the tools and resources at its disposal to get as many guns off our streets as possible through a community-led buyback strategy.
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At a time when crime is rising — shootings in New York are up 64% compared to the same time period three years ago — we must do everything in our power to keep guns off our streets before they take another life or harm another community. But the Supreme Court’s decision, led by the conservative supermajority, has the potential to open the floodgates, making it easier for anyone to carry a weapon in New York and turning nonviolent confrontations into violent ones or innocent accidents into deadly encounters.
Not only will a robust gun buyback program cut down on the firearms circulating in New York, it will also create inroads for other gun violence reduction strategies. Gun buybacks are one piece of a comprehensive approach to working toward true public safety, and must be complemented by universal background checks, red flag laws, liability insurance reform, firearm registration, as well as increased age limits and waiting periods for gun purchases.
The City Council has full authority to authorize and fund a citywide gun buyback program, as we did in 2013 to the tune of $300,000. Today, as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, we need to renew our efforts on a larger scale.
While Washington takes measured steps to curb the gun crisis — constrained by radical conservatives who refuse to heed the calls of the vast majority of Americans who want bold, national gun safety measures — we must step up locally. If I am elected to Congress, for which I am currently running, I will cosponsor existing legislation to create a national gun buyback program, and sponsor new legislation if necessary. The Safer Neighborhoods Gun Buyback Act of 2021 is currently cosponsored by New York City Reps. Grace Meng and Adriano Espaillat, and I would join their efforts on my first day in office.
The Supreme Court’s decision opens the door to loosening or overturning gun control measures nationwide. The counterforce to that effort must be as strong as it is pragmatic and effective. That means that it’s more important than ever that legislators do everything they can to prevent tragedies like those that just took place in Buffalo and Uvalde as well as the dozens of daily shootings — most of them in communities that had been dealing with entrenched gun violence for years before the recent spike — that barely make the news.
We must treat gun violence like the public health crisis it is and fight to end this epidemic by addressing its roots — and that means getting guns off our streets.
Rivera is a member of the New York City Council and candidate for Congress in New York’s 10th Congressional District.