War on Guns ‘a Risk’ for New York’s Scandal-Scarred Governor

  • GOP chief predicts law-abiding gun owners will be energized
  • In polling, New Yorkers identify crime as their No. 1 concern

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is gambling on guns ahead of the 2022 election, taking a chance that voters will appreciate his latest proposal to curb firearms violence even if it doesn’t end up making a difference.

The state has logged 320 shooting deaths so far this year, compared to 594 in all of 2020, not including suicide, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which tracks incidents of gun violence.

The three-term Democrat declared a gun violence emergency, directed the State Police to focus on getting illegal firearms off the streets, and directed money into a jobs program for at-risk youth. His $138.7 million initiative was rolled into the state’s $209 billion budget for the current fiscal year.

He also signed first-in-the-nation legislation that makes it easier to bring civil lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers, bypassing blanket immunity provided to the industry under federal law.

“Our community has become more and more concerned about public safety issues and that’s mainly because of the increase in shootings,” said Iesha Sekou, chief executive and founder of Street Corner Resources in Harlem.

Photographer: Mark Lennihan/AP Photo/Bloomberg
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) at a May 27, 2021, news conference.

“I think that when people go to the polls they want to know that they have elected officials that will act on the policies or suggestions that are being made to eradicate gun violence,” she said.

New Yorkers responding to the most recent Siena College poll, taken June 22–29, called crime a top priority.

Cuomo’s initiatives “carry a lot of risk if there isn’t change, if there aren’t real gains against gun violence before the election,” said Larry Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.

Election Nears

Cuomo’s raising money for next year’s election, when he’ll be asking voters to keep him in office for a fourth term while facing multiple inquiries, including an impeachment investigation, a federal probe into his administration’s response to Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes, and an investigation into several allegations of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. He has denied all allegations.

“Cuomo looks far from invincible at this point,” said Heidi Li Feldman, a professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center. “I think that it’s a pretty intelligent move politically from someone in his position who is going to face some serious opposition.”

“I think it’s a clever point of intersection,” she said.

Balancing Act

The potential downsides for Cuomo include giving gun-rights die-hards a reason to vote against him, and a backlash in urban communities, depending on how the mandate to rid the streets of illegal firearms gets carried out.

Sekou said she’s heard from young people who are concerned about how police will act toward them, and state Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy said Cuomo “is energizing law-abiding gun owners who are sick of having their rights trampled on.”

“Law and order will be front and center on the ballot next November and voters are going to hold Cuomo—or whomever the Democrat nominee is—accountable for their anti-police, pro-criminal agenda,” Langworthy said.

“The Governor is doing the job that voters elected him to do and – as he has demonstrated over and over again – is not afraid of tough challenges. New York is the first state in the nation to declare a gun violence emergency and our goal is to save lives pure and simple,” Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said in an email.

Biden Focus

Gun violence also is a priority for President Joe Biden (D), who was in New York City this week promoting his proposals. Nationally, 10,764 shooting deaths, not including suicide, have been attributed to gun violence so far this year, compared with 19,403 in all of 2020, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

In addition to the moves taken this month, Cuomo championed a major gun safety package in January 2013, shortly after 26 people were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in nearby Connecticut. That law changed the state’s definition of “assault weapons,” restricted resale, and increased criminal penalties for illegal gun use.

It also added a background check requirement for private gun sales and mandated that mental health professionals report patients they consider likely to hurt themselves or others into a gun-restriction database. About 114,180 individuals have been reported to the database as of Jan. 1, according to Jim Plastiras, a spokesman for the state’s Office of Mental Health.

Analysts Feldman and Levy said they expect Cuomo’s 2021 followup to play well with the supporters who gave him 59.6% of the vote in 2018 and 54% in 2014.

“Good government makes good politics,” Levy said. “If you’re doing something that is arguably the right thing to do, or the majority of your constituents believe it is and you do it, it’s going to enure to your benefit politically.”

Everytown for Gun Safety advocates for gun control measures. Michael Bloomberg is the majority owner of Bloomberg Government’s parent company and serves as a member of Everytown’s advisory board.

To contact the reporter on this story: Keshia Clukey in Albany, N.Y. at kclukey@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com

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