Downtown gun buyback uncertain

BY SAM SPOKONY   |  Funding is available for 10 new gun buyback events across the city, but it’s unclear whether one of those will be held for the Lower East Side’s public housing developments.

In its fiscal year 2014 budget, the City Council set aside $150,000 to fund the buybacks, which offer cash to residents who anonymously turn in guns to their local police precinct. The New York Police Department has also provided a matching contribution of $150,000.

In October 2012, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver worked with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to sponsor the first-ever Lower East Side gun buyback event, which took 50 firearms — including four illegally altered, semiautomatic handguns — off the street.

“The scourge of gun violence has brought tragedy to far too many families in our community, particularly on the Lower East Side, which recently saw yet another fatal shooting,” said Silver in an e-mailed statement last week, referring to the Nov. 10 murder of 30-year-old George Taliferro in Smith Houses. “I would welcome another gun buyback and I am continuing my strong effort to curb gun violence,” Silver said.

The 10 locations for the new buybacks will be chosen through discussions between the City Council, N.Y.P.D. and D.A.’s Office, according to a D.A. source.

“Every illegal firearm taken off our streets means lives saved and crimes averted, and that is why gun buyback programs are an invaluable tool in keeping New Yorkers safe,” said Councilmember Margaret Chin, who has also allocated $800,000 for the installation of security cameras in public housing developments. “Curbing gun violence in our communities is of the utmost priority, and I expect the next administration to give this issue its full attention.”

The Council also allocated more than $4.5 million in funding for other antigun violence initiatives in its F.Y. 2014 budget. But that money is all focused on five neighborhoods — in Harlem, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island — that have statistically higher rates of shootings than the Lower East Side.

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, in an interview with The Villager, called for a second Lower East Side gun buyback earlier this year, following January’s fatal shooting of Raphael Ward, 16, a Baruch Houses resident.

Since Ward’s murder, there have been a total of eight more shooting incidents reported in the Fifth, Seventh and Ninth precincts, which collectively cover Chinatown, the Lower East Side and the East Village.

The N.Y.P.D. did not respond to a request for comment.

In interviews conducted at Smith Houses following Taliferro’s death, residents of the development generally supported the idea of bringing another gun buyback to the Lower East Side. But one woman, who has lived there 35 years, was bluntly critical of the program.

“It’s bulls—,” said the 60-year-old woman “For every gun they turn in, there are still five more on the street.”