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Local officials question Cuomo’s gun directives

Gov. Andrew Cuomo gives a COVID-19 update at a press conference in June. (Provided photo — Don Pollard, governor’s office)

New York can try to sue gun manufacturers over harm caused by their products under legislation signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday.

The new law comes at a time when New York City in particular is facing a rise in shootings. Overall, violence is well short of the historic highs of the 1990s, or even in the New York of the early 2000s.

Local officials are criticizing the new law, signed the same day Cuomo declared a disaster emergency to address a surge in gun violence seen throughout cities across the state in recent months.

Under the law, gun manufacturers and dealers can be sued for creating a “public nuisance” by failing to take steps to prevent firearms from being sold unlawfully.

The Washington County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution last month encouraging Cuomo not to sign the bill over concerns the law would impact local gun shops and machine shops that manufacture gun parts throughout the county.

Kingsbury Supervisor Dana Hogan, who drafted the resolution on behalf of Jane Havens, the owner of Calamity Jane’s Firearms and Fine Shoes store, said in an email that he wasn’t surprised the bill was signed and questioned whether it would help address gun violence.

“I sponsored and supported the county resolution because I don’t believe we are going to litigate our way out of gun violence in the United States,” he said. “I also don’t have a great deal of confidence that deeming gun violence as a ‘public nuisance,’ or more recently a ‘disaster emergency,’ will be effective in addressing the problem, but I hope I’m wrong.”

Locally, state Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-Horicon, and Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, all voted against the legislation.

In a statement, Woerner applauded the state’s efforts to crack down on gun violence, but added additional resources are needed to create opportunities for individuals.

“Supporting programs that open up employment opportunities for young people is a constructive step to help them build a positive future for themselves and their families,” she said. “These efforts will, in my opinion, do more to reduce gun violence than the legislation signed into law by the governor yesterday.”

Still, the Democratic-led Legislature has pushed to pass several gun control measures this year, including legislation that would prohibit the sale, purchase or transfer of firearms to anyone with an outstanding warrant for a felony or serious offense.

The federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005 gave gun manufacturers immunity from lawsuits related to the criminal misuse of their products.

“Plain and simple, this was federal overreach to protect the gun industry in every way possible,” state Attorney General Letitia James said. “But, today, New York state took an important step to right that wrong and protect its citizens from gun violence.”

It’s unclear, however, whether that argument will survive being challenged in court.

James said she is “ready to defend” the law, which, for example, would allow her or a locality to sue gun manufacturers for harming the public by neglecting to take steps to prevent firearms from being sold unlawfully in New York.

Cuomo also said Tuesday he would declare that gun violence in his state is a “disaster emergency” and start tracking hot spots of shootings. Cuomo said declaring the emergency will make it easier to spend money on efforts to address and reduce gun violence.

The order was declared just weeks after a similar order issued by the governor at the onset of the pandemic expired amid a decline in COVID cases.

Stec, in a statement, blasted the order and blamed the rise in crime on recent changes to the state’s cash bail law, which was overhauled last year despite pushback from law enforcement officials.

“Gov. Cuomo declaring a gun violence ‘State of Emergency’ is another example of Executive Branch overreach,” he said. “We are just coming off more than a year of Cuomo directives for COVID. The governor can’t continue to circumvent the Legislature.”

Simpson had similar sentiments, adding a lack of respect for law enforcement has played a role in the violence.

“The true emergency that needs to be addressed in New York is lack of respect for the rule of law,” he said in a statement. “Once we re-establish respect for our men and women of law enforcement, we will be able to reclaim safety in our communities.”

Under the emergency order, the state will launch an office on gun violence prevention to collect data from the state’s major police departments. A new Governor’s Council on Gun Violence Reduction will come up with recommendations to address gun violence.

Cuomo didn’t release specifics on the initiatives immediately Tuesday, including the cost of the new office, how much emergency money or what kind of “resources” would be sent to hot spots, or how exactly the state plans to reduce and prevent gun violence.

Post-Star reporter Chad Arnold and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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