New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham isn’t the only state executive to declare a public health emergency due to “gun violence,” though she is the only one who tried to suspend the right to bear arms in a portion of her state through an executive order. As Buffalo News columnist Rob Watson points out, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a “disaster emergency” based on gun violence in July of 2021, and New Yorkers have been living under that declaration ever since.
Apparently, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s controversial law targeting law-abiding pistol-permit holders has not done much to curb gun violence.
But don’t take my word for it. Take hers.
Over the weekend, the governor extended for the umpteenth time the “Declaration of Disaster Emergency” first enacted by predecessor Andrew Cuomo in July 2021. Citing rising gun violence during the pandemic, Cuomo used the declaration to seize supposedly temporary powers to combat what he called “a statewide disaster emergency.”
But while Covid-19 has subsided since then, the gun violence emergency apparently has not. That’s despite the misnamed Concealed Carry Improvement Act that Hochul pushed through two years ago, which was sold as an anti-crime measure but which will restrict where only law-abiding gun owners carry weapons, not criminals.
Hence the latest extension of the emergency declaration, which now runs through Feb. 4. In fact, the gun violence emergency order has been repeatedly extended, including 27 times by Hochul alone, according to the watchdog group Reinvent Albany. If the CCIA was effective, you’d think the gun crime emergency would be over by now.
At what point does an “emergency” become a chronic condition? That was one of the questions posed by the New Mexico Supreme Court when it heard oral arguments this week on Grisham’s public health order and carry ban, which originally suspended the right to carry throughout the city of Albuquerque and surrounding Bernalillo County, but it applies equally as well to Cuomo and Hochul’s order. New Mexico Supreme Court Justice David K. Thomson noted that Grisham has already renewed her orders four times, and wondered if that isn’t a sign that Grisham is trying to impose a permanent policy through executive, not legislative action. Well, Hochul has extended her own order almost 30 times, so what does that say about her own intentions? Watson believes its not exclusively about Hochul’s animosity towards the Second Amendment and its protections.
Such emergency powers let a governor bypass accountability measures – such as competitive bidding when issuing contracts or a review of contracts by the state comptroller – designed to protect the public and prevent abuse. In essence, they undermine the safeguards that make the democratic process work.
In that sense, the repeated extension of the gun-violence emergency declaration exemplifies all of Albany’s worst proclivities rolled into one: a political power-grab that sidesteps checks and balances while also keeping the public in the dark.
That’s a trifecta that is hard to achieve; but New York politicians are nothing if not industrious.
The gun violence disaster declaration – like most such emergency measures – allows the governor to suspend a host of provisions in State Finance Law or any other statute as they relate to “contracts, leases, licenses, permits or any other written agreements that may be entered into for purposes of mitigating such disaster emergency.”
You can how broadly that could be interpreted when it comes to an issue as amorphous as “gun violence”, and as Watson says, there’s almost no public accountability or transparency when such a declaration has been made. The New York legislature took the modest step of approving legislation that would require state agencies to disclose publish contract information if those contracts were issued under the emergency rules or without the approval of the state comptroller, but Hochul vetoed the bill. As a result, watchdog groups like Reinvent Albany and individual citizens are still in the dark about what exactly Hochul’s been doing during the never-ending emergency.
[Reinvent Albany senior policy advisor Rachael Fauss said the group has been trying to figure out which contracts have been issued under the gun violence order, but information on contracts under such orders is not easy to dig up. One exception, she said, was contracts issued by New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority under a four-year emergency order – and that was only because the MTA board had to approve the contracts after the fact.
The Hochul administration did not respond to an inquiry about how many contracts it has issued under the gun violence order and why the “emergency” order is still necessary.
If I were Watson I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for her office to get back to him with any answers. Why would it? Under the current law Hochul apparently doesn’t have to disclose information about those contracts, and she doesn’t need to explain her repeated renewals of the emergency declaration to the press either. Unless or until the Democratic majority in the legislature musters the intestinal fortitude to curb the executive abuses by the head of their own party, Hochul can keep operating with impunity and little oversight… and New Yorkers will remain in the dark about the governor’s closed-door actions.