Campaign Encourages Guns for Bodegas

By Krishn Kaushik on Dec 7th, 2010

Bodega robberies earlier this year have raised security concerns. (Photo by Krishn Kaushik)

Fernando Mateo’s brainchild, the Toys for Guns campaign, helped remove 1,502 guns from Washington Heights in 16 days in 1996, says the website of Hispanics Across America, an organization he founded in 2002 to tackle issues affecting local Hispanic communities. But his latest campaign seems an about-face: He is encouraging bodegas owners to apply for gun licenses. “If you have a gun it sends a message,” Mateo says. “You take my life, I take yours.”

But he wants to be clear on one point: “I still oppose illegal guns.”

Mateo, along with Ramon Murphy, president of the Bodega Association of  the United States, a New York City coalition, is encouraging bodega owners to get licensed as a protective measure. Murphy, owner of Red Apple Deli Supermarket in Washington Heights, believes that a gun in the store intimidates potential criminals. “It will make them think twice,” he says.

The campaign, “Protection for Small Businesses,” is intended to help bodega owners acquire licensed guns. It began in late October, a response to the killing of a Queens bodega owner during a June robbery. There doesn’t have to be an increase in such incidents to justify the campaign, Murphy says. “Even a single life counts.”

Under the campaign, bodega owners can apply for a gun licenses, assistance in buying guns and training from Gold Shield Training Center in Westchester. Normally, lawyers charge $1,000 to assist in getting a license. But as a special partner to the bodega owners, Gold Shield will charge applicants $250 in addition to the $340 state fee, Murphy adds. He says that the application is very complicated and applicants can easily go wrong. Gold Shield will help bodega owners fill out a preliminary form, to ascertain if the applicant meets state criteria.

“I don’t own a gun myself,” Murphy says. He doesn’t feel it necessary because he believes his neighborhood is safe. But he says that many parts of New York City are not safe for bodegas.

Owners, concerned after several robberies in Queens earlier this year, back the campaign, says Murphy, including many from uptown Manhattan.

Still, Gold Shield has received only one application, says its office manager, Denime Timlin. She believes the campaign is too new to draw a lot of applicants.

But many delis uptown don’t even know about the campaign and are not particularly interested. “We don’t need a gun,” says Frank Nunez, who works at 1061 Archie Grocery Corp. on 163rd Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.

“I grew up here,” says Ali Ashayaf, who works at his father’s deli, Bee Smart Deli Grocery Corp. just a block away on 162nd Street. “They won’t rob me,” Ashayaf adds. “Where will they go?”

Max Moharram, whose father owns a deli at the corner of 168th Street and Audobon Avenue, says, “We don’t own any guns.” And he says his family doesn’t feel the need to get one.

But Claudio Martinez, who owns 149 Street Deli Grocery on Amsterdam Avenue, applied for a license three months ago, before the campaign. “Have not heard back yet,” he says. Just two blocks away from the 30th Precinct police station, he says, “I do not particularly feel unsafe,” but adds that he is still concerned.

Murphy believes that the police are limited. “They cannot be everywhere.” He says that the response time can be as long as 45 minutes in some cases, another reason bodegas need self-protection.

The campaign also encourages bodegas to give up illegal guns, which some owners possess. Asked if the campaign will add to city’s gun culture, Mateo says, “Legal guns pose no danger.” Ninety percent of gun crimes in New York City involves illegal guns, he says.

Jackie Hill, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, clarifies the statistic. “Only 1 in 10 crimes are from guns that originated in the city,” she says. Hill believes that New York State has very effective gun laws, and the New York Police Department does a good job in screening for licenses. “They should not lower the standards,” she says referring to the campaign.

She says guns from other states are the real issue. “It needs to be tackled at the federal level,” with sales approved only after proper background checks, she adds.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is pushing a bill that lowers the fee for a license. Hill appreciates a clause in the billthat prohibits people from carrying guns when drunk.

“Anyone who qualifies should have a gun,” Mateo says. Murphy believes that legal guns are no threat; even if used in a crime, they can be easily traced.

The police department reports that this year nearly 800 licenses for businesses were either issued or modified through Sept. 1, according to The New York Times.

For more about guns uptown, read SNUG Will Work to Curb Guns.

2 Responses for “Campaign Encourages Guns for Bodegas”

  1. Peter Hamm says:

    Thanks for covering this story. See “Living for 32″ for a compelling story about a Virginia Tech shooting victim. The trailer is at Read Maria Cuomo Cole’s Huffington post blog:

  2. tdrag says:

    The people of New York (my FORMER state) seem to have forgotten about the 2nd Amendment. If you don’t actively use and uphold your rights someone will take them away from you!

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