Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has worked as a reporter, an editor, newsroom administrator and editorial writer. Show More

Four sisters are mourning the loss of their dad.

How many more will have to mourn before federal gun laws are strengthened enough to get illegal guns off the street?

The suspect in the slaying of NYPD Officer Peter Figoski, of West Babylon, has a lengthy criminal record, dating back years.

He has a prison record. And is wanted in North Carolina on charges stemming from the shooting and wounding of a man.

There's no way he could have withstood a background check.

But it's likely he didn't have to.

Police say the gun found under a vehicle near where the suspect was caught is an illegal semiautomatic pistol.

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So how is it that the death of an officer in New York City, which has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, could be tied to an illegal pistol?

It's because it is so easy to buy illegal guns.

And where do those guns come from?

They tend to come from other states with less stringent gun control laws that do not require a significant background check.

"Guns have a life of their own," said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), who, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has been fighting for federal regulations that would slow the pipeline of illegal guns into New York.

"If a gun has been used in one crime, it's likely to have been used in another," she said. "They tend to get sold, over and over."

Police have determined the illegal pistol likely used in the shooting was legally sold in Virginia but lost by the owner. But it's clear, even now, that things could have turned out differently for Figoski's partner, who chased the suspect for blocks. Or for any innocent bystander who happened to come upon the chase.

After one shot, the gun was jammed by a shell casing. Police said it still had 10 live, unused rounds.

Guns can be safe, and should be legal, in the hands of owners who know how to properly operate and store them. Full disclosure: My dad taught me to fire, clean and properly store a shotgun; later I became a pretty good shot using a rifle, too.

There's got to be a way to make it harder for illegal guns to so easily make their way into the hands of criminals who seemingly have no aversion to using them.

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Bloomberg, for years an advocate for gun control, said that the gun found near the suspect was purchased illegally.

He also made yet another plea for other states to adopt stricter gun laws. "These guns are bought and used to kill people, and you saw that this morning," he said during a news conference Monday.

But illegal guns aren't just a problem in New York City. They're a problem on Long Island too, where a rash of mostly gang-related shootings have disrupted too many communities. In the past two weeks alone, three teenagers were wounded at a shooting in Huntington Station. On Sunday, three men were wounded and one later died after a shooting in Central Islip. It's hard to believe any of the guns used in the shootings were legal.

Monday, on a West Babylon community website, someone posted a photograph of Peter Figoski standing with four smiling daughters.

He is smiling, too.

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Rest in peace, officer.