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Cuomo declares first-in-nation gun violence disaster emergency as part of 'comprehensive strategy to build a safer New York'

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Wed, Jul 7th 2021 03:10 pm

√ Issues executive order declaring gun violence a disaster emergency, requiring DCJS to gather and to share incident-level data from local police departments on gun violence

√ Creates Office of Gun Violence prevention to coordinate efforts and direct resources to emerging gun violence hot spots
√ Invests $138.7 million in intervention, prevention & jobs programs to engage at-risk youth and get young people off streets
√ Creates new State Police Gun Trafficking Interdiction Unit to stop flow of illegal guns into state

√ Partners with John Jay College of Criminal Justice to strengthen police-community relations

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday declared the first-in-the-nation gun violence disaster emergency as part of what his team called a “new, comprehensive strategy to build a safer New York.”

“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,” a press release stated. “The disaster emergency allows the state to expedite money and resources to communities so they can begin targeting gun violence immediately.”

To coordinate this gun violence prevention effort, the governor announced the creation of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention. He also required, by executive order, major police departments to share incident-level data on gun violence with DCJS to compile this data weekly. This data will be used by the new Office of Gun Violence Prevention to track emerging gun violence hotspots and deploy resources to those areas that need it most.

Cuomo’s camp said, “This comprehensive strategy also includes a $138.7 million investment in intervention and prevention programs, including programs that engage at-risk youth in summer job opportunities and community activity programs to get young people off the streets, and supports ongoing gun violence prevention programs.”

He also announced the creation of a new State Police Gun Trafficking Interdiction Unit to stop the flood of illegal guns that come into New York from states with “weak gun safety laws.” Additionally, the state will continue to strengthen police-community relations through a partnership with John Jay College of Criminal Justice to help localities implement and assess the reform plans they developed through the landmark New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative. 

"We're building New York back better than ever before, but part of rebuilding is addressing the systemic injustices that were exposed by COVID. 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," Cuomo said. "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. When we see an injustice we don't look the other way, we stand up and fight it because that's the New York way."

Deploying a Public-Health Approach to Gun Violence

The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will be overseen by the New York State Department of Health and led by a governor-appointed gun violence prevention coordinator who will coordinate an all-of-government approach to ensure state and local programs are advancing unified gun violence prevention strategies. The office will include a task force of representatives from state agencies including the offices of Mental Health, Children and Family Services, Temporary and Disability Assistance, and the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Victim Services; the departments of Labor, Housing, Health, Corrections and Community Supervision; as well as Empire State Development, the State Police and Division of Budget.

Cuomo will also invite stakeholders to participate in a new Governor's Council on Gun Violence Reduction to ensure coordination between the state, localities and community groups to address local needs. The council will review current laws and local proposals for reform and will make recommendations for changes based on science and data.

Targeting ‘Hot Spots’ Using Science and Data

As outlined in the governor's executive order, police departments from across the state will be polled weekly by Division of Criminal Justice Services for incident-level data on shootings so the Office of Gun Violence Prevention can identify and track emerging hotspots and direct resources where needed.

The press release explained, “As with COVID-19, the state will use a cluster-based strategy to contain and combat the epidemic and identify gun violence hot spots where clusters of shootings are driven by small numbers of people. Initial hot spots identified in New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse and Long Island include just 4,090 young men aged 18-24, but account for 48.5% of recent gun violence in those communities. View maps here.”

Investing Over $76 Million to Create Job Opportunities and Community Activities for Youth

Cuomo’s camp said “the spike in gun violence began as COVID-19 kept many young people out of school and work, and disruptions to social supports and services left at-risk youth without safe, productive places to go during the day. These disruptions have had a destabilizing impact, particularly on young people, leading to a rise in gun violence. Research has shown that summer job programs decrease the likelihood of involvement in violence by 45%.

“To help get young people off the streets, the state will invest an unprecedented $76 million to create jobs and community activities for at-risk youth.”

New York will fund over 21,000 jobs for youth this summer, with initial commitments to create jobs by UFT, 32BJ, the MTA, the Partnership for NYC, tech:NYC, the NYC Hospitality Alliance, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Queens Chamber of Commerce. Staten Island Chamber of Commerce and New York State Parks. Businesses are encouraged to make jobs available on the state's website. Salaries for these job opportunities will be paid for by the state.

New York will also partner with the Consortium for Worker Education, the workforce development arm of the NYC Central Labor Council, to provide new job training, training stipends, credentialing and placement in good-paying, long-term jobs for 2,400 young people who are out of school and live in the neighborhoods most impacted by gun violence.

In addition, the state will increase the funding available for sports, arts and recreational facilities for this summer. Prioritization for the additional funding will be given to programs within identified hot spot communities.

More Than Doubling State Investments in Violence Intervention Programs

The press release stated, “Violence intervention programs, which work with impacted communities to break the cycle of gun violence and retaliations, have been shown to reduce violence by as much as 60%. The Giffords Law Center has pointed to New York state's program at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx as a best-in-class model.”

Cuomo’s camp said, “The state will create a new hospital-based violence intervention program in hotspot communities, expanding the state's Jacobi model where it is most needed. Hospital-based violence intervention programs have proven to be a successful model by enabling street outreach workers to respond to shooting victims directly, connect victims and their families to wrap-around support services, and deescalate conflicts and retaliation.

“The state will also expand the successful SNUG Street Outreach Programs by almost 50%. The SNUG Street Outreach program is administered by the Division of Criminal Justice Services and utilizes credible messengers in the community to engage and mentor at-risk youth, host community events, work to steer young people away from gun violence, and respond to shootings to prevent retaliatory violence. Through the almost doubling of this program, the state is taking aggressive action to curb gun violence in the hardest hit communities.”

Getting Illegal Guns off the Streets

The press release stated, “While New York state has the strongest gun safety laws in the country, 74% of crime guns used in criminal activity across the state were purchased out of state. To combat the flow of illegal guns onto New York streets, the state will create a new Gun Trafficking Interdiction Unit within the New York State Police. New York state will also work with other states in the region to share gun-tracing data that can stop inter-state gun traffickers and straw purchasers from introducing illegal guns into New York communities.

Strengthening Police-Community Relationship

“Data shows that, when community trust for the police is low, 911 calls and regular patrols decrease, while gun violence and crimes rates increase. To build on the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative that was established in June 2020 and requires police departments to create plans for reform at the local level, the state is announcing a new partnership with John Jay College of Criminal Justice to help select police departments that have implementation strategies for their plans and to develop standards for measuring progress. 

“The State is also launching a new portal of statewide police reform plans to encourage jurisdictions to learn from each other.”

The governor is also directing the Division of Criminal Justice Services to issue new regulations implementing a law signed by him this year that “strengthens hiring and background investigations standards for police officers and closes the police officer misconduct loophole by preventing officers who commit serious or criminal misconduct from serving as officers in another police department.”

Cuomo Signs Legislation Holding Gun Manufacturers Accountable & Closing ‘Harmful Gun Sale Loophole’

Cuomo also signed legislation (S.7196/A.6762-B and S.5000-B/A.6198-B) holding gun manufacturers liable for “the harm their products cause and closing a loophole that allowed people with outstanding warrants for their arrest to purchase guns.”

He said, "Of all the challenges we face every day in New York, few are as difficult to bear as the scourge of gun violence plaguing our communities. The only industry in the United States of America immune from lawsuits are the gun manufacturers, but we will not stand for that any longer. I am not only signing a new law that does away with this immunity – giving New York the ability to hold them accountable – but also closing the destructive Trump loophole, which has allowed people with active warrants to purchase guns for far too long. Now, if you have an active warrant, you cannot buy a gun in the state of New York, period."

Holding Gun Manufacturers Accountable

Under this new legislation, gun manufacturers “cannot endanger the safety and health of the public through the sale, manufacturing, importing or marketing of the products they sell. The products can be considered a public nuisance even if the gun manufacturer did not purposely cause harm to the public. The attorney general and any city corporation counsel can take action on behalf of any locality, as can members of the public, corporations and associations.

“Since 2005, a federal law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act has shielded bad actor gun manufacturers and dealers from most lawsuits. No other industry has this protection from liability for their products and practices, which has created a perfect storm of lax controls and inability to hold bad actors to account. This legislation will allow for a lawsuit to be brought in cases where reasonable controls and procedures are not in place, ensuring that responsible manufacturers and dealers will not be held accountable for the actions of criminal actors.”

Preventing People with Outstanding Warrants from Purchasing Guns

The second bill prohibits the sale, purchase or transfer of firearms to anyone known to have an outstanding warrant for a felony or serious offense. It prohibits the buying, selling and gifting of guns if the buyer is known to have a warrant for a felony or serious offense. This bill was proposed as part of the 2021 State of the State.

Cuomo’s camp continued, “In early 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice reinterpreted a gun purchase prohibitor of the National Instant Background Check System to include only those individuals who have fled from one state to another for the purpose of evading prosecution for a crime while subject to an active or imminent arrest warrant versus those subject to any arrest warrant. Under Gov. Cuomo's leadership, New York state addressed this issue by prohibiting any person who is subject to an outstanding arrest warrant for a felony or serious misdemeanor from being issued or maintaining a firearms license, which is necessary to purchase a pistol or revolver. This legislation builds on that action, allowing these types of arrest warrants to once again be entered into the NICS database as a state-specific prohibitor, whether the individual has fled New York state or not, ensuring that those individuals wanted in New York for a serious crime cannot acquire new guns.”

Response

Giffords, the gun violence prevention group led by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, lauded New York state for passing “groundbreaking legislation that could lead to firearm manufacturers being held legally liable for harm caused by their weapons.”

"This bill will provide New Yorkers with an avenue to seek justice, reopening the courtroom doors for victims who have suffered as a direct result of the gun industry’s irresponsible practices and reintroducing accountability to an industry that has acted with impunity for too long," said David Pucino, senior staff attorney for Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "Giffords thanks Sen. Myrie and Assembly member Fahy for their leadership on this issue and applauds New York for the passage of this first-of-its-kind legislation."

New York State Sen. Zellnor Myrie said, "In this year's state budget, we declared gun violence a public health crisis, especially affecting Black and brown communities like the ones I represent. Today, we're taking bold action to address this crisis head-on by enacting the strongest gun industry liability law in the nation. 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. I'm grateful to Gov. Cuomo for signing this legislation, Assembly member Patricia Fahy for leading the charge in the Assembly, and the countless advocates, partners and gun violence survivors who made this moment possible."

Fahy said, "For far too long, most guns recovered from violent crimes and shootings in New York are trafficked in from out-of-state, yet the gun industry in the United States enjoys special protection from civil liability under a 2005 federal law known as PLCAA. Passing this landmark legislation will allow gun manufacturers and distributors – who knowingly use bad actors to market their products – to be held civilly liable for the damage they cause on our streets. We have led the nation on gun legislation – and we aren't letting up now to help keep New Yorkers safe from the scourge of gun violence. I thank Gov. Cuomo for continuing that strong record by signing this bill into law; Sen. Myrie for his strong partnership in the Legislature; Speaker Heastie; my legislative colleagues; and gun violence prevention advocates for helping to pass the nation's first gun industry liability law. It will be an effective tool to leverage in the fight against gun violence this year in New York state and shift the national conversation."

Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt said, “Days after finally relinquishing his emergency powers, the governor has declared another emergency. 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. 

“These heinous acts of violence and the victims affected deserve real solutions – not political grandstanding.”

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