NEW YORK, NY — Teenagers caught with guns should be sent to criminal instead of family court, according to Mayor Eric Adams' sweeping plan to address a "public health crisis" of gun violence in the city.
The mayor said Monday that a state rule that stopped 16- and 17-year-olds from being prosecuted as adults for gun charges has created a "loophole" for gang members to avoid weapons charges, contributing to a surge in shootings that has plagued the city since the coronavirus pandemic.
Adams said if teenagers refuse to tell law enforcement where they got their guns, they should face criminal court.
"Far too many men above the age of 18 are victimizing children and forcing them to carry the weapons," Adams said at a press conference on the "Blueprint to End Gun Violence" plan. "Children are being used as pawns."
Adams said since the Raise the Age legislation, which went into place in 2019, the number of weapons charges for those under 18 years old has spiked from 2.5 percent of all cases in 2019 to 10 percent as of last year.
Rolling back the state-level rule will require lobbying Albany — where Republican lawmakers already have a proposal on the issue — and contending with advocates who argue the age rules aren't to blame for shootings.
Several legal advocacy groups were quick to say Monday that they disagree with several tenants of Adams' plan, including rolling back Raise the Age legislation.
"We call on the Legislature to reject the Mayor’s wrongheaded proposals to rely on discredited punitive approaches and focus on investing in our communities," The Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem and Queens Defenders said in a joint statement.
Changing the age rule will be among several state-level policies the mayor, a former NYPD officer, will lobby to change under his new plan.
Adams also urged stricter pre-trial detention rules and changing the number of guns sold to be charged with a gun trafficking felony from 10 to three.
As former Mayor Bill de Blasio did, Adams in part blamed a pandemic-driven backlog in the courts for gun violence spikes. Adams said easing social distancing rules at courthouses should help expedite cases and urged district attorneys to move gun violence cases to the "front of the docket."
Adams has long vowed solutions to gun violence when he took reign over New York City.
The mayor's announcement comes just days after a police officer was shot and killed and another was critically injured in Harlem on Friday. A total of five NYPD officers have been shot since Adams was sworn in at the start of the year, according to reports.
As a whole, shooting incidents so far in 2022 are up 15 percent when compared to the same period last year, NYPD data shows. The slight spike comes after officials largely tamped down a pandemic-driven surge in shootings last year.
"New Yorkers feel as though a sea of violence is engulfing our city, but as your mayor I promise you I will not let this happen," Adams said. "We will not surrender our city."
In terms of law enforcement, Adams' "Blueprint to End Gun Violence" proposal will bring back a controversial plainclothes anti-gun unit that was disbanded last year.
This time, the unit, now known as "Neighborhood Safety Teams," will be more identifiable as police and include more body cameras, Adams said. The teams will focus on the 30 precincts that account for 80 percent of gun violence in New York City, according to the mayor.
The Police Benevolent Association, the NYPD's largest union, said Monday that they supported Adams' overall proposal.
"For years, we’ve been calling for real solutions to our violent crime crisis," said PBA President Patrick J. Lynch. "Mayor Adams has acknowledged the problem and outlined the beginnings of a plan."
Adams also vowed to ramp up prevention by expanding jobs programs, mental health services, homeless services and help for kids in the foster system. At least 250,000 New Yorkers between 16 and 24 years old are out of school and work, he said.
Before wrapping up, the mayor promised to attend the funeral of the slain Harlem officer this week.
"As a city we will mourn together," he said. "We will celebrate his life and his memory and in the memory of all those who have been killed by gun violence. New York, we will rise again."