New York governor Andrew Cuomo declared a “gun violence disaster emergency” this week. Cuomo said he would pattern New York’s efforts to contain the sharp increase in shootings on its victory over Covid-19. “New York,” the governor explained, “is going to lead the nation once again with a comprehensive approach to combating and preventing gun violence, and our first step is acknowledging the problem with a first-in-the-nation disaster emergency on gun violence.”
It may sound odd for Cuomo to cite his management of the pandemic as a model for another social program, as New York State’s total mortality rate was among the highest in the nation; New York City’s mortality rate was by far the nation’s highest. Then again, this is a man who found time to write a book in praise of his own leadership while tens of thousands of his constituents were dying. In any case, Cuomo’s “comprehensive approach” to “preventing gun violence” represents a grab bag of old ideas, none of which has been shown to work, and all of which simply divert additional revenue to the governor’s allies, while passing blame for New York’s violence to the police and to leaders of other states.
Cuomo announced that the “new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will be overseen by the New York State Department of Health,” as though the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets was put in charge of managing commuter rail on Long Island. New York has a well-funded and robust state police force, a Division of Criminal Justice Services, a state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, a Unified Court System, and a suite of other agencies that would seem to be more appropriate choices than the Health Department to deal with gun violence. But today, assigning crime-fighting responsibility to law enforcement is not politically viable. Progressive politicians can discuss violent crime in only two ways: as a socioeconomic matter that requires attention to the “root causes” of violence; and as an epidemic of “gun violence” that must be treated like any other contagious disease, with targeted attention to epidemiological “hot spots,” care and treatment for the afflicted, and no blaming of the victim—that is, the people in whose hands guns happen to go off.
Cuomo’s plan “will invest an unprecedented $76 million to create jobs and community activities for at-risk youth,” to “help get young people off the streets.” It’s not clear what’s “unprecedented” about this proposed outlay; the state routinely spends generously on job-training and after-school programs for young people. For instance, last year’s budget, which supposedly represented strict austerity, saw $55 million dedicated to the “Empire State After-School” program; $21.6 million to “Extended Learning Time”; $15.6 million to the “Youth Development Program”; and $45 million to “Summer Youth Employment.” The previous year saw a special $16 million program, specifically aimed at “Cutting off the Recruitment Pipeline to Eradicate MS-13” on Long Island.
Cuomo’s new emergency declaration will also fund an expansion of “violence interruption” programs that “utilize credible messengers in the community” to engage at-risk youth. “Credible messengers” are former gang members and other respected neighborhood eminences, but the various groups that offer such services are currently posting job listings for “violence interrupter” online, so perhaps they aren’t so easy to find. A hoary favorite of progressives, these programs exist in a continual state of innovation. Cuomo points to a violence-intervention program at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx as a “best-in-class model.” The Bronx, one almost hates to point out, has seen a 41 percent increase in murder in 2021 over the previous year, and shooting incidents are up 78 percent across the borough. Are we to believe that without the Jacobi Medical program, the borough’s rates of violence would be even worse?
Cuomo also proposes to end the “iron pipeline” that brings guns from states with “poor gun safety laws” to New York (where strong gun-safety laws nevertheless do not prevent people from being shot). He vows to sign legislation that will permit victims of shootings to sue the manufacturers of the guilty gun, on the grounds that the makers created a public nuisance. This would contradict a federal law exempting firearms makers from liability, but New York is used to suing entire industries—such as oil companies—and losing.
Finally, Cuomo blamed police for cratering “community trust,” causing people not to call 911 when gun violence happens in their neighborhoods. He plans to enhance hiring standards for police and impose new criteria for local police departments to stay up to date on the latest reforms.
Now that Covid-19 appears to have abated, Governor Cuomo seems to need another emergency. Grandstanding on guns—while doing nothing to revise the disastrous bail and discovery reforms he signed in 2019—lets him pretend that he’s on top of the crisis.
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