Pols Propose a Public Gun-Offender Registry, But Critics Blast the Plan
CITY HALL — The names, faces and street addresses of people convicted of gun crimes should be recorded statewide and posted online, several city and state politicians said Wednesday.
City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., chairman of the council’s public-safety committee, plans to introduce a bill that would make public the city’s existing gun-offender registry, which is now only accessible to the police.
The politicians also called on Albany to enact a similar law establishing a statewide registry that would store the information of those convicted of certain gun crimes for 10 years after they serve their sentences and require those individuals to check in with police every six months.
“We’re sick and tired of criminals thinking that they can hide in the shadows,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who proposed an online statewide registry in his State of the Borough address in February.
Critics have denounced the public-registry plan, which they say is not backed by evidence and would further stigmatize ex-convicts and could even lead to retaliatory violence.
“Rather than improve public safety, this bill will make it impossible for people who have already taken responsibility for their crime, and served their prison time, to re-enter society in successful and productive ways,” said Justine Olderman, managing attorney for the Bronx Defenders, a nonprofit criminal-defense agency.
New York became the nation’s first city to create a gun-offender registry when the original law was passed in 2006.
Under it, people convicted of possessing a loaded handgun, an assault rifle, a disguised firearm or three or more illegal handguns, or a convicted felon possessing any gun, must register their addresses and report periodically to the police or face a year in prison.
The new bill, which would move that registry online, is meant to crack down on repeat offenses by those convicted of felony-gun possession, who have higher re-arrest rates than other felons, according to Vallone.
An online registry, similar to those of convicted sex offenders, would also alert residents to convicted gun-law offenders in their area, he added — though he said only street names, not house or building numbers, would be included.
“An informed public is a safer public,” said Vallone, who is running for Queens Borough President.
But Glenn Martin, vice president of public affairs for the Fortune Society, a nonprofit that supports formerly incarcerated people, said there is “absolutely zero evidence” that such public databases are effective.
He noted that after personally serving prison time for armed robbery, he was eventually able to land a job at a law firm, pay the child support he owed and start a new life in a different area — all of which would have been undermined by a public registry, he said.
“There’s no better way to get people to reoffend than to further alienate them from society,” Martin said, calling the bill “good politics but bad policy.”
Shana Rowan, executive director of USA FAIR, which advocates for research-based reform of sex-offender registries, said that most studies have found no evidence that public registries or community-notification rules cut down on sex crimes.
The public registry’s proponents dismissed such concerns Wednesday, saying that violence against registered sex offenders is rare, employers already run criminal-background checks and people who break gun laws must deal with the consequences.
“As a progressive Democrat, I’m not going to be apologetic about being firm and stigmatizing criminals,” said Diaz, who is running for reelection.