Gun Trafficking: A Taboo Subject in Our State and National Politics
“I pulled out the gun and shot, like, without looking, twice, three times, as a matter of fact…”
Those chilling words were uttered by Boris Brown, then 20, to prosecutors nine days after he fired wildly into a crowd, killing 17-year-old Cheyenne Baez and injuring one other. One minute, Cheyenne was talking to friends in a courtyard. The next, she had become another young victim of gun violence.
This summer, Brown and his co-defendant, Devon Coughman, were sentenced to 32-years-to-life and 10 years in prison, respectively, after being convicted by a jury for that fatal 2010 shooting in East Harlem.
The gun that Brown used to fire into a crowd was never recovered. That means this deadly weapon is unaccounted for, could still be in circulation, and potentially used to commit more senseless violence.
This July, I had the opportunity to meet with Cheyenne’s mother, Lisa Baez. She spoke movingly about the loss of her only daughter, a promising and popular high school student. These meetings with family members are the most difficult part of my job as district attorney, but they also motivate me to continue fighting for the rights of crime victims, and to take on the illegal gun trade that drives violent crime.
There have been 129 shootings so far this year in Manhattan, with 154 victims. Nineteen of those victims lost their lives to gun violence.
On Friday, I stood with New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to announce criminal charges against 16 members of two separate gun trafficking networks. In all, they sold more than 110 illegal firearms, including handguns, assault weapons, and machine guns, and they focused their trade in East Harlem, the same neighborhood where Cheyenne was killed. Each and every one of those guns is capable of causing the anguish Lisa Baez endures each day.
It is not uncommon for guns that wind up in Manhattan to have been ferried north from Southern states with lax gun laws. We know that at least 11 guns in this case came from other states, including 10 from South Carolina and one from Virginia.
Guns are purchased illegally every day in this city. Gun traffickers don’t have to pull the trigger to be complicit in a crime. Everyone who perpetuates gun violence in this city — from the illegal gun dealer to the gang member on your block to the witness who refuses to “snitch” — bears responsibility.
Every child, on every block of every neighborhood, has the right to walk to school and home without fear of getting shot. And yet, the subject of gun law reform remains taboo for many of our state and national elected officials. As the president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, I hear from fellow prosecutors around the state about how gun violence is ripping communities apart. It is not enough to simply prosecute the shooters — we need to go after the traffickers, who are at the root of the problem, and stop the flow of illegal guns into our state.
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