Southeast Queens bids farewell to illegal firearms

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Several hundred southeast Queens residents had money burning a hole in their pockets in place of firearms after a gun buyback program Saturday netted 922 weapons for a city record, authorities said.

Speaking at the 101st Precinct in Far Rockaway Tuesday morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg hailed the program and noted the tally of guns taken off the street by these programs across the city has reached 3,500 since last summer.

“That’s 3,500 guns that won’t end up on our streets in the hand of criminals, won’t be involved in tragic household accidents or crimes and won’t ever be pointed at police officers or civilians,” Bloomberg said.

The program, run jointly by the Police Department and the Queens district attorney’s office, held drop−off sites at churches across southeast Queens, including the Praise Tabernacle Church in Jamaica, the Minority Baptist Church in St. Albans and Presbyterian Church of St. Albans, Evangel Temple in Springfield Gardens, the First Baptist Church in Far Rockaway and the Macedonia Baptist Church in Arverne.

The program offered a $200 bank card in return for any operable gun, bringing in 257 revolvers, 222 rifles, 147 shotguns, 137 semi−automatic pistols, 137 pellet & BB guns, 15 sawed−off shotguns and seven assault weapons, authorities said. In total, $158,880 was handed out in exchange for guns Saturday, police said.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown thanked the clergy for coordinating the buyback with his office.

“The support of the community is critical to the success of this program and emblematic of the level of cooperation needed by law enforcement to ensure the safety of everyone,” he said.

Among the people turning in weapons was City Councilman James Sanders (D−Laurelton), whose wife, Andrea, an anti−gun violence activist and president of the Victorious Organization of Women, heard about other buybacks and insisted it be done in southeast Queens.

“Once upon it was like the “OK Corral,” shooting and killing,” she said of southeast Queens. “We as women and mothers took a stand.”

In a ceremonial gesture, Sanders turned in a rifle that actually belonged to Donna, a Jamaica woman who declined to give her last name, but said the weapon was her father’s.

“He’s old now, and it has really served no purpose,” she said, noting she frequently has her 3−year−old grandson stay with her on weekends. “Kids always get into stuff. I just don’t want it to be an accident getting ready to happen.”

St. Albans resident Susan McGee, who accompanied Sanders to the buyback site, knows firsthand the effects of gun violence. Her son, Julian Smith, 23, was killed Feb. 8 when three men approached a group of his friends at Atlantic Avenue and 102nd Street in Richmond Hill, she said.

“One pulled a gun and instead of shooting the person he intended to shoot, he shot my son,” she said. “He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

McGee said that before her son’s death she would hear about gun violence and feel sorry for the families.

“But it never touched home,” she said. “Now it has hit me in my heart.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 6:36 pm, October 10, 2011
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