SCHENECTADY – A member of the City Council wants to up the state minimum for a firearm charge to 10 years as a means of thwarting gun violence in the city and beyond.
Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas pitched the idea during Monday night’s meeting, asking colleagues to join her in drafting a resolution to the state legislature.
A person convicted of a firearm charge in New York faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 3-1/2 years, with a maximum of 15 years if the person doesn’t have a prior felony conviction.
“We need to send a message to anyone thinking of committing heinous crimes within the city, and these violent acts need to be addressed,” Zalewski-Wildzunas said.
According to statistics compiled by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, Schenectady’s violent crimes involving guns have increased.
The city had 115 violent crimes involving a firearm in 2020, up from 101 in 2019 and 90 in 2018. Its 2020 numbers include 18 robberies and 92 aggravated assaults.
Schenectady had five homicides from gun violence in 2020, after having one in 2019 and none in 2018.
The city also reported 10 shooting victims this year, compared to 12 the first six months of 2020.
“Gun violence has gotten out of control,” Zalewski-Wildzunas said. “A person who carries an illegal gun is not someone who has made a mistake. They have been in the business of crime for quite a while.”
Zalewski-Wildzunas, who’s white, said gun violence crossed racial lines.
“(A) bullet has no race,” she said.
The councilwoman said New York has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. However, most of them have been directed toward a purchase by a law-abiding citizen exercising his or her Second Amendment rights.
“We all know the proliferation of illegal guns is the problem, and I believe it’s time we as lawmakers understand and address this underlying cause of gun violence in our streets,” she said. “There needs to be a zero-tolerance approach for an individual who uses a gun to intimidate, injure or murder another individual, period.”
Council Majority Leader John Polimeni pledged to support a resolution.
“It’s almost daily that there’s some sort of gun violence,” Polimeni said of the current climate on Schenectady and Albany streets.
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield noted the governor’s recent declaration of a state of emergency on gun violence preceded an earmark of $300,000 for the city to prevent gun violence.
The money is intended to support 60 at-risk youth ages 18 to 24 to receive job training, credentialing and career placement services to ultimately connect at-risk youth to well-paid, permanent jobs.