By Ivan Pereira
On the day the city celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., leaders in southeast Queens urged residents and law enforcement agencies to continue the civil rights leader’s work for peace by getting guns off the streets.
City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) joined U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and civic groups at the Birch Family Center, at 145-02 Farmers Blvd. in Laurelton, to call for the Queens district attorney’s office to start another gun buy-back program for the neighborhood.
Over the last year, murder has increased 13 percent in the city and the surge was even greater in communities in southeast Queens, where there are a number of unsolved shooting homicides.
Sanders, who has held gun buy-backs in the past, said the first step to curbing the problem was to get the weapons out of the hands of criminals.
“It is madness to let the violence continue when we know that there is a simple solution to the problem,” he said.
Aside from illegally obtained guns that finger in the incidents, Sanders said firearms used in shootings are stolen from the homes of licensed owners. The councilman said those owners should think carefully about their weapons during these dangerous times.
“If you bought a gun and don’t know how to use it, you better turn it in,” he said.
DA Richard Brown said he would support a gun buy back.
“I applaud Councilman Sanders and his fellow civic leaders for their efforts in wanting to help to curb gun violence and would welcome their assistance in helping to secure the necessary funding to finance another gun buyback program,” he said in a statement. “I would also remind individuals that they can currently turn in guns at their local police precinct and receive a voucher for $100,” he said in a statement.
Meeks agreed with Sanders’ call and said the initiative is more important than ever because of the shooting incident in Tucson, Ariz. The congressman noted that the alleged shooter was able to legally obtain a gun despite having a minor criminal record and possible mental problems.
James Earl Ray, the man who shot King in 1969, also bought the gun used in the assassination legally, according to the congressman.
Although Meeks said he and his colleagues in Washington, D.C., were looking for ways to change gun laws to prevent similar killings, reducing the amount of illegal weapons was the easiest way to stop the senseless shootings.
“Where does the community go? Community or chaos? That is the question,” he said.
Many community groups supported Sanders’ initiative because they said they were tired of all the violence that has been plaguing their streets.
Earl Roberts, vice president of the 113th Precinct Community Councilï»¿, said residents needed to push for programs that would also spread a message of peace to the youth.
“We need that gun buy-back program, but most importantly we need that value for life,” he said.
Sanders was not the only elected official who was out in the community during the national holiday. City Councilmen Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) and Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) distributed coats to needy residents.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4546.