Not that anybody really expects New York’s governor to admit that his sweeping gun control laws known as the SAFE Act have failed to make New Yorkers any safer, but Andrew Cuomo has once again avoided taking any responsibility for the sharp rise in violent crime in New York City. Instead, Cuomo is blaming the increase in shootings in the city on local politicians who haven’t embraced his police reform efforts. From the New York Post:
In June, Cuomo issued an executive order requiring each local government in the state to adopt a policing reform plan by April 1, 2021 — following tensions between police and communities after the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
And he blasted the city for not yet submitting a plan, while noting that 146 New York jurisdictions already have.
“Why isn’t New York City doing it? The mayor can lead it, the city council … could lead it,” he said. “If none of them want to lead it, I will find someone to lead it — just tell me you don’t want to.”
Cuomo called it “wholly unacceptable” that the city still hasn’t submitted a plan to the state — even though the deadline has not yet passed.
During a Thursday press conference, Cuomo spent most of his time talking about the increase in shootings in the Big Apple, while ignoring the fact that shootings and homicides have increased dramatically all across the state. Cuomo pointed out, for instance, that shootings are up 103% in NYC, but failed to mention that shootings are up by 114% in Rochester, New York. In Syracuse, there’ve been 27 homicides so far this year, compared to 16 in all of 2019. Buffalo has also already surpassed the number of shootings in all of 2019, while in the state capitol of Albany there’ve been 15 homicides so far this year, matching last year’s record-high total.
Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have never gotten along, and I understand from a political point of view why Cuomo would want to highlight the increasing mayhem and murder in the state’s population center, but that doesn’t absolve the governor of the fact that the buck stops with him. Not only is he the state’s chief executive, he’s the guy who swore back in 2013 that his “toughest gun laws in the nation” were going to make residents safer. As he proclaimed when he signed the SAFE Act into law:
“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.”
The SAFE Act didn’t feature reasonable, common sense reforms, and it hasn’t made the state a safer place to live. It’s been an abject failure in terms of public safety, though it has put thousands of New Yorkers in prison for the non-violent offense of possessing a firearm without a license.
Under the SAFE Act, New York banned the sale and use of any magazine that can hold more than seven rounds, mandated instant background checks on all ammunition purchases at the time of sale, required registration of firearms deemed “assault weapons” and recertification of pistol permits every five years, instituted so-called universal background checks, and increased the criminal penalties on those who carried a gun without a license from a misdemeanor to a felony offense.
Unfortunately for Cuomo, his magazine ban caused so much confusion that his office eventually said that gun owners could use 10-round magazines, but could only put seven rounds of ammunition in them. Two federal judges ruled the ban was unconstitutional, but even now the New York State police and some (but not all) jurisdictions say they’re enforcing the ban.
Cuomo’s instant background checks on ammunition has yet to get off the ground, and the plan was quietly suspended back in 2015, though the New York State Police insist that they’re still working to put a system in place to conduct the background checks on ammo sales.
The universal background check measure clearly hasn’t stopped criminals from illegally acquiring firearms, and I’ve been able to find no evidence that prosecutors across the state have brought charges against anyone for transferring a gun to someone in a private sale without going through a background check. Like every other universal background check law, it’s impossible to enforce New York’s statute proactively, which means the best that prosecutors can hope for is to charge someone after the fact if they determine that the firearm should have gone through a background check when it was transferred.
As for the registration of so-called assault weapons and re-registration of handguns, both measures have been met with massive noncompliance.
About the only part of the SAFE Act that’s working as intended is the part of the law that made it a felony to possess a gun without a license. As of 2016, fully 84% of the SAFE Act prosecutions that had taken place in the state were related to unlicensed possession of a firearm, a non-violent offense that now comes with a 3 1/2-year prison sentence.
Ironically enough, the most used aspect of the SAFE Act is the most likely to be changed, given the fact that Democrats are now talking about “reimagining policing.” The vast majority of these illegal gun possession cases are brought in New York City, and the vast majority of defendants, according to Emily Bazelon of Slate, are young black men without serious criminal histories. Not only has the SAFE Act failed to keep New Yorkers safe, it’s put a disproportionate number of minorities behind bars.
Of course Cuomo doesn’t want to acknowledge any of this, but I’d love to see a reporter bring up some of these inconvenient truths at Cuomo’s next press conference. If the governor is going to face any tough questions over the failure of his gun control laws, it’ll have to come from the Albany press corps. After all, it’s not like his brother’s going to give him a hard time about it during their next lovefest on CNN.