June 22, 2016

NY Teens Refuse to Accept Gun Violence

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ALBANY, New York — New York has some of the strongest gun laws in the country but that hasn’t stopped gun violence from affecting the lives of many. According to the Crime, Arrest and Firearm Activity report issued by New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, there were 127 gun deaths in 2015. And for each of those deaths countless family and friends were affected.

Kyler Childs, 17, lost her uncle to a bullet at a Queens liquor store two years ago. “My mom got a phone call and I heard her yelling and screaming and crying,” Childs said. That’s when she found out her uncle had been shot.

JJIE New York Metro Bureau logoChilds was one of about 20 Jamaica High School students who boarded a bus to Albany in May to speak to members of the state legislature about strengthening gun laws. Specifically, to urge support for A2217, which imposes additional license conditions and restricts commercial practices. The assembly session has adjourned for the year. The bill will be taken up in the new session.

The students had questions and experiences they hoped to share for a more personal appeal.

At the Capitol in Albany, the students packed into the office of Michael Miller, assemblyman for District 38 in Queens, but he wasn’t available to meet them. Instead, they met with Miller’s intern Imran Hossain, who fielded questions about the current gun violence situation and the importance of voting.

When asked by a student if he had ever dealt with gun violence directly, outside legislative proceedings, he said he had been a witness to gun violence while growing up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and promised to relay the class’ message to Miller.

Assemblyman Miller was unavailable to comment about his absence, but his office said “his stance on gun violence speaks for itself.” The assemblyman has been a consistent supporter of gun control legislation.

[Related: Wounded Teen Activist Returns to City Where He Was Shot]

Tiyana Sherman, 15, was among the students at the meeting. “It could have been a lot better if we had talked to the congressman,” she said. “The topic was important but not important enough to talk to us.”

Sherman has been dealing with the reality of gun violence since January, when her friend Nicholas committed suicide with a gun he found in his home. “I didn’t know so much was happening for him to have to pull the trigger,” she said.

Like Childs and Sherman, other students on the bus live with the hurtful effects of gun violence. Maximus Sampson, 15, witnessed a shooting outside a deli in Brooklyn that continues to traumatize him. Gabriel Rios, 15, lost an uncle to a bullet after a heated game of dice.

As one of the strictest states in the nation regarding gun control, New York has passed various gun laws. One of the toughest and most thorough measures is the NY SAFE Act, passed in 2013. Its regulations range from high-capacity magazine bans to expanded background checks. The Act was passed in direct response to the Sandy Hook school shooting and was met with criticism that it had been rushed through by the state legislature and restricted civil liberties.

Along with A2217, the students were in Albany to support the latest legislation on the table: A00053A or “Nicholas's Law” named after 12-year-old Nicholas Naumkin, who was shot to death by a friend playing with his father's unlocked gun. The law would require the safe storage of guns to prevent child access.

It died in the state Senate, but is up to its third reading in the state Assembly, where it could be amended and resubmitted to the Senate to go through the committee process again,

(This story originally appeared in Point Blank, a special report produced by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism's NYCity News Service.)

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