Record number of firearms turned in at Bed-Stuy gun buyback — but not all Brooklynites feel safer

DA looking at guns at gun buybacl
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez inspects arms received at this year’s third gun buyback in Bedford-Stuyvesant. A record 206 guns were turned in at the event.
Photo courtesy of Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office

A record number of 206 firearms were turned in by residents at a Bedford-Stuyvesant gun buyback organized by Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and New York City Police Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell on Dec. 17. The event resulted in the most surrendered weapons in New York City’s history. 

Several assault rifles and 130 handguns, five of which were ghost guns —home-assembled arms, unmarked, purchased in parts without a background check — were exchanged by residents, who received up to $500 and an iPad for their weapons.

guns buy back in Bed-stuy.
“Every gun that has been turned in is a gun that will never be used to cause harm in our communities,” said Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez after the event. Photo courtesy of Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office

Absolutely no questions asked and no ID is needed to participate,” read a post from the DA’s office on social media ahead of the event.

In New York, gun sales have fallen after a temporary spike during the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests of summer 2020, according to data on from the Federal Bureau of Investigations. There were a total of 221,579 FBI firearm background checks in the state in the first half of 2022 compared to 245,023 in the first six months of 2021 —a 9.6% reduction. However, gun sales often spike in election years and after high-profile crimes. As of Nov. 2022, the FBI had run 412,0085 background checks in New York — and some guns are sold with no background check at all.

“We know that fewer guns in our neighborhoods means less gun violence,” said Gonzalez. “These 206 guns will be destroyed so they can never do harm.”

According to the DA, the latest yearly review from 2021 shows murders declined by 16 percent compared to the previous year while shootings and shooting victims dropped by over 20 percent. Shootings also declined in 20 of the 23 Brooklyn precincts, including in Flatbush, Midwood, Williamsburg, Canarsie, and East New York.

Saturday’s event was the third gun buyback in Brooklyn this year. In total, 315 firearms were taken off the streets during the events. But, overall, crime is up slightly in Bed-Stuy, and in Brooklyn as a whole according to police data. In the 79th Precinct, which includes parts of Bed-Stuy, some crimes — including robbery, burglary, and shootings — are down, compared to the same time last year. But rape, felony and misdemeanor assaults, and grand larceny are all up. 

guns at gun buyback on table
The DA’s office has collected over 300 guns from 3 buybacks this year — including a number of illegal “ghost guns.” File photo courtesy of Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office

“This doesn’t feel like a particularly safe neighborhood,” said Rhonda Hilten, a 49-year-old Bed-Stuy resident. “Everyday, we hear about crime in our streets’ intersection. It gives me the feeling that they are closing up on me and my neighbors. Hearing that hundreds of weapons are off the streets makes me think that less kids are gonna get a hold of their parents’ guns and bring them to school, but this neighborhood needs grassroots work to prevent violence.”

A U.S. Supreme Court decision in June made it easier for people to obtain a permit to carry handguns in New York’s public spaces.  A New York state law requiring applicants for a license to carry a gun outside of their homes to have a “proper cause” to do so was struck down.

But the state’s legislators pushed back by passing a new package of gun control laws — including one called the Concealed Carry Improvement Act, which restricts concealed carry permit holders from bringing weapons to “sensitive areas” like parks, houses of worship, and stadiums. This has prompted a flurry of legal challenges from Second Amendment supporters, who have filed at least nine lawsuits since the new legislation passed. 

“I understand why some people would turn in a gun in exchange for money at one of these events, but for those of us who still don’t feel safe walking around in New York, who have had traumatic experiences in public places and who have licensees to carry, this is a violation,” said Mauria Blake, a 36-year-old Brooklynites who is a member of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, the state’s largest firearms advocacy organization. The Association filed the lawsuit challenging the state’s “proper cause” law, which eventually got the law overturned. 

governor kathy hochul announces gun legislation
The state passed additional gun control laws after the Supreme Court decision was handed down last summer — but those law are also being challenged in court. Photo courtesy Don Pollard/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

The nonprofit Violence Policy Center predicts that undoing New York’s law will unleash “potentially catastrophic consequences,” including injury and death to innocent people. The VPC web site tracks “hundreds of examples” of non-self-defense killings by concealed-carry permit holders over the years. 

“I personally support for there to be background checks in order to sell guns and other measures to promote safety and control,” said Blake. “I don’t want mentally unstable people to have access to unmarked guns. I don’t want old guns that are not safe to carry around anymore, on the streets. I want to be sure that we, gun owners in New York, are only the right people to have a weapon, but I need to carry my gun with me outside my house to feel safe.”