By Aara Ramesh
On Tuesday, July 6, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a first-of-its-kind executive order declaring the escalating gun violence in New York a disaster emergency. The new edict is just the first step in a broader seven-step plan outlined by the state government.
According to the governor, shootings in New York City alone were up 38% in the first half of this year, compared to the first half of last year. He also said that over the Fourth of July weekend, 13 people died from Covid-19, while 51 people were shot across the state. New York was not alone in that regard. Yesterday, we wrote about the scores of gun violence incidents that occurred all over the country during the celebrations. New York City police say that through July 4, around 886 people have been shot in 765 incidents so far this year. According to the New York Times, the number of gun-related incidents seen so far in 2021 in New York City is at the highest recorded level since the early 2000s.
In announcing the plan, Gov. Cuomo said that the increase in gun violence is slowly eclipsing the toll that the Covid-19 pandemic is taking, saying, “We went from one epidemic to another epidemic. We went from Covid to the epidemic of gun violence and the fear and the death that goes along with it.” He added, “It is a matter of saving lives, and New York’s future depends on it. People are not coming back to this city, they’re not coming back to any city, until they know they are safe.”
Using data and science to guide policy, the new strategy outlined by the governor will:
- Treat gun violence as a public health emergency.
- Funnel almost $140 million to those communities particularly suffering from gun violence crises.
- Create an Office of Gun Violence Prevention under the state’s Department of Health to oversee and coordinate an all-government response to the ongoing epidemic. The Office will be run by a Gun Violence Prevention Coordinator, appointed by the governor.
- Mandate individual police departments in major cities and towns to share with the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, on a weekly basis, “incident-level data on gun violence.”
- Allow the Office of Gun Violence Prevention to use this data to identify and target “hotspots” where gun violence is growing and send them resources. Areas identified to begin with include New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Long Island, where just 4,090 young men between the ages of 18 and 24 account for nearly half of recent gun violence.
- Establish a State Police Gun Trafficking Interdiction Unit to stop the inter-state movement of illegal guns to New York from states with lax gun safety laws and to remove illegal guns from circulation, as almost three out of every four firearms used in a crime in New York were purchased outside the state.
- Stop dangerous people from accessing firearms, including those with serious criminal histories and outstanding warrants.
- Work to improve the relationship between police forces and their communities through a partnership with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The office of the governor noted that rates of gun violence and crime go up when communities don’t trust their police force, while the number of police patrols and 911 calls made by the public both fall.
- Create a new Governor’s Council on Gun Violence Reduction, wherein stakeholders will participate and coordinate the varying needs of the state, localities, and community groups. The Council will be tasked with reviewing extant laws and proposals for reform, and will, in turn, make its own research- and data-driven recommendations on potential changes.
- Disrupt the cycle of retaliatory and escalating violence often seen in shootings by expanding hospital-based intervention programs that are noted to reduce such violence by almost 60%. This will be done through experienced outreach workers engaging with and supporting the victims, families, and communities affected.
- Engage with and employ youth in at-risk communities, whose lives were “destabilized” by school closures and lockdowns last year, which left them with nowhere to go during the day and without the social services they relied on to keep them safe and occupied. Citing research that showed that summer job programs could cut the likelihood of a young person being involved in violence by almost half, the governor said around $76 million — more than half of the total allocated funds — will be directed towards generating jobs and developing community activities to keep youth away from unsafe situations where they may be exposed to or may engage in gun violence.
- Address the recruitment of police officers, strengthening the standards that govern background checks and hiring, and also closing a loophole that allows officers involved in serious or criminal misconduct in one police department to work in another.
Gov. Cuomo said that he intends for New York state to lead the country in addressing gun violence, in a way similar to how it tackled Covid-19. That same day, Tuesday, July 6, the governor also signed a pair of bills that would make it easier to take legal action against gun manufacturers and that would inhibit the sale of firearms to anyone considered dangerous (i.e., anyone with an outstanding warrant, or with a serious offense or felony on their criminal record). The governor said that New York state would not allow gun manufacturers to disseminate firearms with impunity when those weapons are used to endanger public health and safety, or create a nuisance.
Separately, the New York City government recently approved a budget that adds $200 million to the police department’s purse, in addition to directing $100 million to anti-violence programs run by the mayor’s office.
The Empire State’s executive order comes just a couple weeks after the Biden-Harris administration announced its own Comprehensive Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gun Crime and Ensure Public Safety, which runs the entire gamut of firearms-related policy, from damming the flow of illegal firearms to helping formerly incarcerated people re-enter and adjust to society.