New York Democrat proposes legislation expanding bail to host of gun crimes amid spike in shootings

A New York Democratic lawmaker has proposed a bill that would expand bail to a series of firearms-related crimes amid steep rises in shootings throughout the state.

The legislation introduced by Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melnick, S.7259, would add several gun crimes to a list of bail-eligible offenses including use of a machine gun, shotgun, silencer, rifle, ghost gun, or so-called “assault weapon” for felony charges.

“The legislature recently enacted a series of changes to the bail reform measures that were enacted in 2019,” Reichlin-Melnick noted in the legislative justification for his measure.

“The changes were reasonable measures designed to maintain the core components of reform while recognizing the need to provide at least some flexibility when certain criminal violations are at issue,” he added. “This bill builds on those efforts by adding certain firearm offenses to the list of offenses that qualify for bail.”

In addition, the legislation defines “ghost guns” as any firearm, rifle, or shotgun that does not contain a serial number, in compliance with statutes that require them to be included by all licensed importers and manufacturers so that weapons can be recognized as such under state codes.

Reichlin-Melnick’s bill would also add to the list of crimes that warrant revoking an order of recognizance in certain instances if a court feels it is necessary.

And finally, the bill allows police to apprehend suspects a court believes committed criminal acts involving a gun, Observer Today reported.

The legislation allowing bail for gun crimes comes as New York police are reporting substantial increases in shootings in the state’s urban centers.

In New York City, for instance, the NYPD reported a nearly 31 percent increase in crime from April 2020 to April 2021 that included a 166 percent increase in shootings. Meanwhile, charges for illegally possessing a weapon have increased in the city by more than 3.7 percent while the number of shootings through May 16 stood at 490, the highest number since 2002.

Observer Today also cited a Buffalo News analysis that found shootings in that city rose by 139 percent last year compared with averages over the past 10 years.

Oddly, Reichlin-Melnick reasoned that his bail reform measure for gun crimes was necessary to protect the state’s residents.

“New York is suffering through a steep rise in gun violence, with shootings and gun homicides up significantly compared to just a few years ago,” he wrote. “In order to address this rise in gun crime, much of it committed with illegally acquired guns, it is important to give judges the discretion to set bail for people charged with crimes using illegal guns.

“The criminal justice reforms of 2019 brought needed change to the justice system and addressed long-standing racial inequities. Gun violence takes a particularly tragic toll on communities of color, so ensuring that the criminal justice system continues to protect communities from gun violence is imperative,” he added.

At the same time, the NYPD has complained that recent criminal justice reforms in the city and throughout the state that eliminated bail entirely for entire classes of criminal acts is responsible for a rise in crimes since last year.

“Criminal justice reforms serve as a significant reason New York City has seen this uptick in crime,” the NYPD said in a press release in March 2020.

Jon Dougherty

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