New York Needs a Gun Offender Registry

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 18:  In this photo illustration a Glock pistol is seen on December 18, 2012 in Miami, Florida. The weapo
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 18: In this photo illustration a Glock pistol is seen on December 18, 2012 in Miami, Florida. The weapon is the same type that was used during a massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Firearm sales have surged recently as speculation of stricter gun laws and a re-instatement of the assault weapons ban following the mass shooting. (Photo illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The following op-ed is co-authored by City Council Member Peter F. Vallone of Queens, who serves as that body's chair of the Public Safety Committee

From Newtown, Conn., to Aurora, Colo. -- and all the way to the Bronx, Queens and the other boroughs of this great city -- gun violence is a plague on our communities.

During the past several months since the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, leaders from across the city, state and nation have been offering ideas to combat gun violence and restrict access to military-style assault weapons. The majority of these ideas have focused on changing the laws regarding legal gun ownership. But we must be willing to take a different step -- one that will target and help combat the threat of illegal guns used by violent criminals to terrorize our neighborhoods. We must keep the spotlight of the law on these offenders, even after they are released by the court system.

That is why we have joined together to support the creation of a statewide gun offender registry, which would be an expansion of the one created in New York City in 2006 by Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Quinn and Council Member Vallone -- the first ever of its kind. This measure would provide police across New York with one of the resources the NYPD and Commissioner Ray Kelly have used to bring murders in the City to the lowest recorded number in history.

The statewide registry would include similar reporting requirements to New York State's existing sex offender registry. It would keep the names of people convicted of crimes involving guns on the registry for at least 10 years, and require offenders to check in regularly with local police. Failure to perform any of the registration obligations would be considered a felony level crime.

New York City is the safest big city in America, in part because our registry allows the police to shine a light on gun offenders. Now, the State Legislature must follow in the City's footsteps by providing law enforcement with this common-sense crime-fighting tool that will help keep the public safe.

Furthermore, while it is currently used as a surveillance tool by law enforcement officials and other city agencies, it cannot be viewed by the public. We are now also working to update this law to allow people to access the registry online, giving them the ability to identify the gun offenders in their communities. Rather than publicly displaying the names of legal gun owners who have not broken the law -- as was recently done by The Journal News in Westchester County -- why not alert people to the potentially dangerous criminals walking among them?

We must work together towards a safer City and State, so that our residents can raise their families without constantly looking over their shoulders. We cannot continue to let gun offenders slip through the cracks or step back into the shadows and continue to infest our neighborhoods with crime. The eyes of the law, and the public, must remain fixed firmly upon them.