(NEW YORK) — Amid a raging national debate on guns, a bust in New York City highlights a problem for police in crime-plagued urban areas. While officers can control illegal gun sales in their cities, they have been at a loss to stop the flow of firearms from places with looser laws.
Eight people from three states have been arrested and charged with buying guns legally in Atlanta and Pittsburgh and bringing them to New York, sometimes aboard low-cost Chinatown buses.
“I sell guns,” alleged trafficking ringleader Michael Bassier was caught saying on a wiretap, according to prosecutors. “I’ve got two Mac 10s on me, an SK assault rifle and four handguns and I’m walking through New York.”
Bassier, 31, of Canarsie, Brooklyn, boasted how he could take advantage of less strict gun laws outside of New York and then sell the weapons at a premium in the city.
“I’m selling them the right way and the wrong way,” Bassier allegedly said on one recorded conversation with a woman believed to be his girlfriend. “When I’m out of state, like in Atlanta and Georgia and all that, it’s all legal. In New York, it’s completely illegal.”
It has been a source of frustration for law enforcement officials.
“We have states that seem to not care about where these guns end up,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, whose office charged Bassier and seven others in a 541-count indictment. “As long as criminals can easily get access to guns, we will continue to have carnage.”
Thompson announced the charges Wednesday while standing behind a table filled with some of the 112 handguns, shotguns and assault-style rifles sold to an undercover New York City police officer for a total of more than $130,000.
“Instead of being used in the commission of crime, these guns here before you have been taken out of commission,” said NYPD Chief of Department Jim O’Neill. “I just think about who and how many victims may have suffered had we not intercepted these gun traffickers.”
O’Neill said 90 percent of guns used in crimes in New York City come from someplace else.
In the last two years, Thompson said his office and the NYPD have taken 553 guns off Brooklyn streets but he conceded criminals can still “flood the streets of our city with assault weapons and other guns.”
“As a country, we must demand a different approach,” Thompson said.
The defendants have been variously charged in a 541-count indictment with fourth-degree conspiracy; first-, second- and third-degree criminal sale of a firearm; first-degree criminal possession of a weapon and other related charges. The defendants were arrested and arraigned over the last week, prosecutors said.
Between September 2014 and September 2015, the defendants allegedly conspired to sell guns purchased in Georgia and Pennsylvania to an NYPD undercover detective in Brooklyn. The weapons recovered during the course of the investigation include 9mm Ruger and Glock pistols, .22 caliber Walther pistols, .40 caliber Smith & Wesson pistols, .45 caliber Taurus pistols, and a variety of assault-style weapons, including multiple .22 long rifle caliber semi-automatic Walther Model MP Uzis, .39 mm caliber semi-automatic Norinco Model SKS, 9mm Luger semi-automatic Jimenez Arms Model JA25 and others, authorities said.
Bassier was denied bail and was remanded to police custody. The other defendants were arrested in Georgia and Pennsylvania and are pending extradition. If convicted, Bassier faces up to 25 years in prison on the top count.
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