New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s been deservingly criticized for his response to the COVID-19 crisis, including sending coronavirus patients back to nursing homes without being tested first to see if they’d recovered from their illness and were no longer contagious. Thousands of nursing home residents died across the state, and while Cuomo’s done his best to shift the blame, there are at least some in the media trying to hold him to account.
When it comes to the dramatic surge in shootings in New York City and other cities across the state, however, Cuomo’s faced hardly any criticism at all, despite the surge in crime on his watch. In Syracuse, New York, for example, three people were killed and another nine wounded in more than a dozen shootings this past weekend, and the city is ahead of where it was this time last year when it comes to homicides and shootings, though non-violent crime is down by more than 10% compared to 2019.
Rochester, New York has also seen a surge in shootings, with at least 13 people injured over the Independence Day weekend. New York GOP head Nick Langworthy recently spoke in the city, and while he laid the blame squarely at the feet of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, he only focused on half of the governor’s failures.
“The surge in crime is a direct result of policies that have neutered law enforcement,” he said. “Our men and women in uniform are now the ones wearing handcuffs and the criminals walk free. They’re under siege and they’ve been totally controlled by the Democrats that control our state and it’s the result of the elimination of cash bail.”
Without a doubt Cuomo’s bail reforms have had an impact on violent crime throughout New York, but Langworthy should also have called out the governor for his bold and brash talk about making the public safer when he signed the anti-gun legislation known as the SAFE Act into effect back in 2013. In fact, Cuomo actually signed the gun control package into law at a ceremony in Rochester, saying at the time:
“It is appropriate to sign the NY SAFE Act here in Rochester, where just weeks ago a gunman senselessly murdered two first responders as they responded to a fire in Webster,” Governor Cuomo said. “This new law will limit gun violence through common sense, reasonable reforms that will make New York a safer place to live. When society confronts serious issues, it is the function of government to do something, and the NY SAFE Act will now give New York State the toughest, strongest protections against gun violence in the nation.”
Here we are seven years later and not only has “gun violence” not been limited in New York, in June of this year shootings in New York City were at their highest levels since 1996. The “commonsense, reasonable reforms” that Cuomo promised have been plagued with issues from the get-go, and they’ve clearly done nothing to actually address violent criminals.
Instead, Cuomo’s ban on magazines capable of holding more than 7-rounds of ammunition was ultimately changed (without a vote of the legislature, mind you) into a ban on putting more than 7-rounds of ammunition into a 10-round magazine. Two federal judges declared the magazine ban unconstitutional, and even now enforcement of the law is largely limited to New York City and the surrounding suburbs.
While Cuomo’s magazine ban has been mostly ignored by law enforcement, it was the New York State Police that ended up putting a halt to another provision of his vaunted gun control plan. The SAFE Act called for background checks to be performed on all ammunition sales in the state, but two years after the law took effect, the state police still hadn’t come up with a way to make it happen and that provision of the law was ultimately suspended. As of 2019, the state police swears that coming up with a database that can be used to check ammunition sales remains a priority, but Cuomo himself hasn’t mentioned that portion of the SAFE Act for several years.
Cuomo’s public responses have suggested he’s not keeping close tabs of the database’s development. Asked about the holdup in a September 2018 meeting with the Times Union’s editorial board, Cuomo repeatedly said he was unaware of the progress on the project.
“I don’t know. I will check,” Cuomo said. “But it is not a significant aspect of the SAFE Act.”
When Cuomo signed the gun law in January 2013, the database was listed in his press release as among its “key” provisions.
In September 2018, [Cuomo spokesman Rich] Azzopardi told the Times Union that the State Police and ITS had “reviewed a number of technological solutions” to implement the database, and had been “unable to address the myriad of legal and operational implementation obstacles.”
The only significant part of the SAFE Act to be fully enacted was a change in state law making possession of an unlicensed handgun a felony offense punishable by up to 3 1/2 years in prison, instead of a misdemeanor level offense. In New York City, where the vast majority of SAFE Act prosecutions take place, getting a license to keep a gun in your home will cost you hundreds of dollars in fees and months of your time, and you can be denied for no reason whatsoever even if you qualify as a legal gun owner. A license to carry is even harder to obtain, and the New York Police Department’s licensing bureau has been caught up in a pay-to-play scandal in recent years that’s demonstrated clearly that the right to keep and bear arms in the city isn’t a right at all. It’s a crime for most and a privilege for a few, and Cuomo’s SAFE Act has only exacerbated the problem.