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Suffolk DA: Flood of illegal guns from South

During a press conference at his office in

During a press conference at his office in Hauppauge, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota holds up a handgun used by suspected gang member, Barry Yorke, to gun down a 19-year-old taxi driver during a robbery in 2010. (April 12, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota Thursday decried the flood of illegal guns into the area, criticizing Congress for failing to keep guns from migrating from the South while residents in some neighborhoods dodge bullets daily.

Spota noted that eight city police officers have been shot in the past four months -- all with illegal guns from the South -- and that 15 people were killed with guns in Suffolk County last year.

"Guns seem to be everywhere in Suffolk County," he said. "We have an increasingly dangerous situation."

Spota announced the arrests of seven men, including an 18-year-old from Copiague accused in the killing of a cabdriver, on gun possession and illegal sale of handgun charges.

One of the weapons, a 9-mm semiautomatic pistol used in the shooting death of Copiague taxi driver Juan Rosario, 19, in December 2010, was traced to a pawnshop in Macon, Ga., Spota said. Barry Yorke is charged with second-degree murder in that case.

Other weapons were purchased in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, he said, including a .357-caliber revolver, several 9-mm semiautomatic pistols and a Smith & Wesson .44-caliber handgun.

Spota said Yorke shot Rosario once in the head with a Hi-Point 9-mm pistol and stole about $100. The month before, an unknown person used the same gun to shoot two people at a Copiague house party. That case is still under investigation. Yorke is being held without bail on the murder charge.

Spota said an illegal-gun task force took more than 75 illegal guns off the street last year. Like the Hi-Point, some guns are used in several violent crimes as they are passed from criminal to criminal, often within street gangs. One gun seized in Suffolk had been used in five murders in Virginia and New Jersey by members of the MS-13 gang, he said.

The county police department's ShotSpotter technology, which detects gunshots, has recorded 517 gunfire incidents since it started working at the end of December, he said. In the Wyandanch area alone, there have been 186 gunshots -- an average of almost two a day. ShotSpotter is also used in Brentwood, Huntington Station and North Bellport.

"It's a war zone in some of these areas," said acting Police Commissioner Edward Webber.

Spota said the refusal of Congress to enact stricter gun laws puts people at risk here. It is too easy in some states to purchase guns repeatedly without a background check on behalf of criminals elsewhere, he said.

"The message that they're sending is that they're doing absolutely nothing," Spota said. "They are just not listening to us."

Spota supported the unsuccessful efforts of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to tighten gun laws and prevent guns from making their way up the East Coast.

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