ALBANY – Calling worsening gun violence a criminal, economic and public health threat, especially in low-income, minority communities, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Tuesday declared a “disaster emergency” to free up funds and programs for job creation and other opportunities aimed especially at at-risk youth.
The Democratic governor signed legislation passed earlier this year by the Legislature to end-run a federal law that will now permit New Yorkers hurt by firearms to sue gun manufacturers if they can show that a “public nuisance” was created by the sale, importation or marketing of firearms in the state. Backers say it will make a major dent in gun violence while gun rights groups say it will push some gunmakers to halt sales in New York.
The new law takes effect immediately, and the bill’s supporters have said they expect the statute to end up being challenged in the courts, especially given the immunity protections the firearms industry was given in a 2005 federal law.
The governor’s plan also includes a “border war," which will involve a new State Police unit to stem the tide of illegal guns that make their way into New York, especially from southern states. He said three-quarters of “crime guns” come from out of state into New York.
In a speech at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, Cuomo sought to liken the state’s new gun violence effort to the battle against Covid.
“We went from one epidemic to another epidemic. We went from Covid to the epidemic of gun violence," he said.
Cuomo said the state would commence a multiagency approach to address gun violence, which overwhelmingly affects minority communities, and will include $57 million in funding for a jobs program for at-risk youth in neighborhoods where shootings are on the rise. He said more than 21,000 jobs will be created; he did not provide a timetable.
“There’s enough blood. There’s enough carnage," he said.
Cuomo also signed legislation barring gun sales to anyone in New York who has an active warrant against him or her.
Republican lawmakers pounced on Cuomo's ideas, saying they come from a governor who OK'd what they declared were a host of "pro-criminal" changes to the state crime laws in 2020.
"The governor's declaration of a gun violence disaster is a gross abuse of his executive authority and an attempt to politically capitalize on a problem that he helped create," said State Sen. George Borrello, a Sunset Bay Republican.
Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, an Oswego County Republican, said Cuomo's announcement demonstrates that Albany's relaxation of criminal laws in the past couple years since Democrats took control of all of state government hasn't worked.
"The governor's decision to issue yet another executive order and declare gun violence a public health emergency is another example of his incessant need to circumvent the Legislature and dictate policy from his bully pulpit," Barclay said in a statement.
Community members and police on Tuesday called for the perpetrators of gun violence in Buffalo to put down their weapons, following the latest flurry of shootings that saw 21 people injured over the three-day Fourth of July weekend.
The governor’s speech was delivered following an especially violent July 4 weekend in Buffalo and elsewhere in New York and the nation. In all, 21 people were shot – none fatally – in 13 separate incidents of gun violence in Buffalo, including a 3-year-old boy who was shot in the head.
In the first six months of the year, 177 people have been shot in Buffalo, up 64% over the average during the same period over the past 10 years.
Besides signing the two pieces of legislation, Cuomo made clear he has no immediate plans to call the Legislature back into a special session. Rather, some of his plans will be done through an executive order that does not need legislative approval. He said the Legislature, in 2013, already passed one of the nation’s most comprehensive gun control laws through the NY SAFE Act.
The speech, a few hours before Cuomo was to hold a virtual fundraiser for his campaign account, attracted an assortment of state legislators, civil rights leaders, union officials and gun control advocates.
Cuomo said the gun violence affecting cities is not only killing people, but harming economic opportunities. “They’re not coming back unless they feel safe," he said of remote workers during Covid and their return to their offices.
The third-term governor is eying a 2022 reelection bid despite multiple scandals and investigations over everything from sexual harassment claims made against him by female staffers to underreporting of Covid deaths among nursing home residents.
On Tuesday, Cuomo said long-term solutions to gun violence are needed, such as better housing and job opportunities in low-income neighborhoods that might, for instance, keep young people from joining gangs. He said the violence involving firearms “is a major civil rights issue today,” noting that Black people are 10 times more likely to be victims of gun violence than white people.
The governor’s plan includes the creation of a new office of gun violence prevention within the Department of Health and expanded reporting of incidents of illegal firearms incidents in major cities of the state.