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Politics and Government

New York declares gun violence a public health crisis, outlines plan to address crime

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office
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New York formally declared gun violence as a public emergency Tuesday, allowing more flexibility for the state to immediately spend money on gun violence prevention and intervention services.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, speaking to supporters in New York City, declared the emergency and outlined a multi-step plan to address gun violence, including new firearm laws.

“Gun Violence is not only taking a human toll. It's taking an economic toll,” Cuomo said. “So we have no choice but to address it. It's the right thing to do.”

As part of the new initiative, New York will create an Office of Gun Violence Prevention, housed in the state Department of Health. That office will be tasked with strategizing ways to reduce gun violence in New York, and overseeing that work.

Cuomo also issued an executive order requiring police departments from the state’s largest municipalities to provide the state with data on which communities have the highest rates of gun violence. That data will then be used to target the state’s response, he said.

“We're going to come up with a comprehensive, organized science and data driven approach,” Cuomo said. “So we have the information, and we know where to target and we know where to address.”

Cuomo’s new initiative also seeks to prevent children and young adults from getting involved in crime as a way to stop the problem at its inception.

As part of that, New York will spend $57 million to fund 21,000 jobs for at-risk youth this summer, Cuomo said. Those jobs are the result of initial commitments from several unions, organizations, and agencies, most of which are based in New York City.

For those that either can’t get a job or aren’t interested, the state will also increase funding for summer activities, like sports, art, and recreational facilities.

New York will also expand a program that provides violence intervention services at hospitals, where victims involved in gun crimes are taken following a shooting. That will be based on an existing program running at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx.

“You intervene at that point and you say there's a different way. That's where you catch them,” Cuomo said. “That's where you grab them. That's where you put them on a different path.”

The state’s on-the-ground gun violence prevention initiative, called SNUG, will also expand by nearly 50%, Cuomo said. That program recruits individuals in communities with high rates of gun violence to mentor at-risk youth, host community events, and more.

Cuomo also outlined a strategy for curbing the number of illegal guns that make their way into New York. Lawmakers have long claimed that New York’s problem with gun violence is the result of illegal firearms being trafficked across state lines.

The State Police, Cuomo said, will create a new Gun Trafficking Interdiction Unit in an attempt to catch illegal guns before they’re used as part of a crime. Details were not provided on how the unit would operate, but Cuomo said it would collaborate with surrounding states.

Cuomo also signed two bills aimed at preventing gun violence into law during the event Tuesday.

The first will change New York state law to allow lawsuits over incidents of gun violence that rise to the level of a public nuisance. Those lawsuits could be targeted at gun manufacturers or retailers, according to the legislation.

“This new law makes it clear: New York will not hesitate to hold gun companies accountable for reckless and irresponsible actions that lead to bloodshed in our streets,” said Sen. Zellnor Myrie, a Democrat from Brooklyn who sponsored the bill.

The law is the first of its kind in the country, and lawmakers expect it to be challenged in court in the coming months.

The second bill Cuomo signed Tuesday will make it explicitly illegal to sell a gun to someone known to have an outstanding warrant for a felony or serious offense. It will also now be illegal for those with a warrant to purchase those firearms.

The last step in Cuomo’s plan, as described by him, is to repair the relationship between communities and members of law enforcement.

Cuomo, last year, required each law enforcement agency in the state to develop a plan to improve policing. But his new initiative will build on that order by looking at best practices, and getting the state involved in the process — community by community.

“Put everybody in the room and find out and reach out to those young people at risk. We're going to support it,” Cuomo said. “We're going to push it, but we need the local leadership to step up.”

Republicans criticized the announcement from Cuomo, calling it an overreach and a smokescreen that wouldn’t substantially reduce gun violence in New York.

“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,” said Assembly Republican Leader Will Barclay.

Republicans have blamed the rise in crime on recent changes to the state’s criminal justice system implemented by Democrats in the Legislature. There’s currently no statistical evidence to say one way or another whether that’s contributed to the increase.

Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt said in a statement in response to Cuomo’s announcement that it’s no coincidence crime started to go up when those changes were implemented last year.

“The crisis in cities across our state today directly correlates with the passage of the disastrous bail and other criminal justice ‘reforms,’ an out-of-control Parole Board that has released countless murderers and other dangerous criminals, and calls by democrats to defund our police,” Ortt said.

Certain crimes, like murder and motor vehicle theft, were up by double digits last year compared to 2019, though the overall rate of so-called index crimes only ticked up by about 1.5%, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Members of the media were not allowed to ask questions at Cuomo’s event, which was attended by several lawmakers from the Legislature who’d previously called on the three-term governor to step down amidst allegations of sexual harassment.

Cuomo said that the total financial commitment from the state for his strategy to address gun violence would come out to about $138 million.