"The level of gun violence is unacceptable. There is no reason why so many handguns should be on the streets," said DeFazio last week. "The proliferation of semi-automatic handguns that ends up in the hands of juveniles and young adults is deplorable."
Recently, DeFazio attended meetings with Mayor Jerramiah Healy, Gov. Jon Corzine, and other legislators to combat the problem of guns coming into Jersey City, including stolen guns from other states being resold here.
Healy will participate this week in a gun summit in New York City organized by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
"You have illegal guns coming into the state from our neighbors in Pennsylvania," said DeFazio. "And then there are other states such as South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia."
According to the Jersey City Police Department, since Jan. 1 of this year, there have been 241 weapons arrests in Jersey City and 24 of them were gang related.Recent gang shootings
The death of 15-year-old Kenneth Dupont on March 14 is a stark reminder of the city's gun problem.
Dupont, a resident of the Booker T. Washington public housing complex on Fremont Street, was killed after a random bullet pierced his body. He was an innocent bystander at an argument between youths from the Booker T. Washington and Montgomery Gardens housing projects. He was killed at the corner of Bright and Florence streets.
DeFazio said the suspected shooter used a semiautomatic handgun, firing one shot in the air and then firing another shot directly at a crowd of people.
And last week, Jersey City police announced that they had a surveillance videotape of Jamal Ebron, a known member of the Bloods street gang, fleeing after allegedly shooting a man on Easter Sunday near Grant Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard.
Ebron is reported to be on the run, and armed and dangerous.
Police also announced last week that a gun-smuggling ring bringing as many as eight guns a week into Jersey City was stopped after police watched several men sell them out of a Dodge Charger on Kennedy Boulevard in Greenville. Four 9-mm. handguns, traced to Georgia, were confiscated in the arrests.
Then there were the arrests of Rene A. Mazariegos, 34, Ivelisse Berroa, 28, and Ebony Cutler, 24, in a house on Stevens Avenue in Jersey City on April 14. Mazariegos and Berroa were both charged with the possession of 13 stolen handguns with the intent to sell them in Jersey City, as well as keeping the handguns in the same house with two young children. Someone had stolen the firearms from a gun shop in Pennsylvania. Stopping guns from entering
DeFazio has spent 25 years working in the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office. During that time, he has seen the criminals' gun of choice evolve, he said.
"It used to be that criminals would use what is called a 'Saturday Night Special,' " said DeFazio. A Saturday Night Special, commonly known as a "junk gun," is made of cheap material in small calibers, such as a .22 long rifle.
Now they use semi-automatic guns. "These semi-automatic handguns can shoot up to 15 shots a clip," said DeFazio. "And it's a dangerous weapon, especially in the hands of young people who don't know how to shoot."
DeFazio said the problem is not unique to Jersey City or the state of New Jersey, but he pointed out the state has one of the toughest gun laws in the country. That means that criminals who want to acquire guns often do it outside the state and sneak them in.
In New Jersey, gun buyers must go through a state-based criminal background check in addition a federal check, and the state restricts selling or giving handguns to juveniles under 21, and other firearms to juveniles under 18.
But the state imposes no restrictions on the number of handguns that can be purchased at one time. Gun traffickers can buy large quantities of handguns and resell them on the street to criminals.
DeFazio commended Virginia for adopting a new law allowing residents to purchase only one handgun within a 30-day period.
DeFazio said it should be the federal government's responsibility to adopt stricter laws. He would also like to see more cooperation between local, state, and federal authorities in sharing information.
"I am particularly upset at the ATF [Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] for not releasing data pertaining to gun-related crimes to the public," said DeFazio. Aiming for more progress
The ATF traces all guns recovered from crimes that take place in Jersey City. The most current public data on illegal handguns is contained in the ATF 2000 Crime Gun Trace Reports. Since 2003, the Bush Administration, through a congressional amendment, has barred the ATF from releasing that information to the public.
There was a press conference on March 27 in City Hall in Jersey City where DeFazio, Healy, U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez (D-Hoboken), and Congressman Steve Rothman (D-Fairlawn) urged the ATF to release the information.
At the press conference, it was pointed that, according to the 2000 ATF Report, 85 percent of guns used in violent crimes in Jersey City came from out of the state. Only 15 percent of guns recovered and traced that same year were from New Jersey.
Jersey City has also partnered with Ceasefire NJ to raise public awareness about gun trafficking. Ceasefire NJ has helped create and pass two major New Jersey gun laws: the Assault Weapons Ban and the nation's first Childproof Handgun Law.
Healy also joined other New Jersey mayors on March 7 to support pending anti-gang state legislation, including establishing a program to educate juveniles on unlawful gun use. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com