When elected officials across the country declared public health emergencies and seized additional executive powers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were some who warned that a precedent had been set for similar power grabs in response to other alleged future “emergencies.”
Those warnings were proven prescient Tuesday when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) declared a “disaster emergency” in regard to the “public health crisis” with regard to gun violence, and in in the process, accumulating more power and control within the state’s executive office, PJ Media reported.
Though Cuomo is the first to actually do so, the move didn’t come entirely out of left field, as many Democrats around the country, in Congress, and even the White House have signaled an openness to declare an “emergency” on so-called “public health” crises like gun violence or even climate change.
“This is a national problem”
“We’re building New York back better than ever before, but part of rebuilding is addressing the systemic injustices that were exposed by COVID,” Gov. Cuomo said in a news release. “If you look at the recent numbers, more people are now dying from gun violence and crime than COVID — this is a national problem but someone has to step up and address this problem because our future depends on it.”
“Just like we did with COVID, New York 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,” he added.
According to the governor’s news release: “This new strategy treats gun violence as a public health crisis, using short-term solutions to manage the immediate gun violence crisis and reduce the shooting rate, as well as long-term solutions that focus on community-based intervention and prevention strategies to break the cycle of violence.”
New policing units created
As a result of Gov. Cuomo’s executive order, a new Office of Gun Violence Prevention was created — overseen by the state’s Department of Health and led by a governor-appointed coordinator — that would promulgate and impose “unified gun violence prevention strategies” throughout the state.
The order also requires all police departments in the state to submit weekly to the Division of Criminal Justice Services a report documenting “incident-level data” on all shootings in order to better identify “hot spots” and direct resources accordingly. The order also directs tens of millions in state taxpayer funding to various gun violence prevention programs, as well as job training and community activity programs.
Cuomo’s order also created a new Gun Trafficking Interdiction Unit within the New York State Police that will work to intercept and remove so-called “illegal guns” from the streets that were brought in from other states.
Critics express concerns
Local media outlet WXXI News reported that Gov. Cuomo’s “emergency” power grab was swiftly criticized as unwarranted and politically motivated, not to mention an attempted distraction away from the several scandals that surround him, whether that be his dishonest mishandling of the pandemic or the sexual harassment allegations.
Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R) said the rising crime rates and surging gun violence would be better addressed by revising recently passed laws like cash bail reform or refusing to prosecute 16- to 17-year-olds as adults for major violent crimes, to say nothing of the anti-cop “defund the police” movement that has emboldened criminals and reduced the effectiveness of police.
“Review some of the soft-on-crime pieces of legislation that have been passed in the last few years,” Barclay said, instead of seizing more authority through executive action. He added: “I think the combination of all of those policies is having a big effect on this increase in violent crime we are seeing across the state.”