In light of last week’s terrorist attack in New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave a speech Tuesday night that began with the statement “This is not shelter in place in New York.” It continued with a vigorous plea for renewed debate about the size and scope of the state’s authority to regulate guns. Then, to cap off the speech, he stated, “This is New York. New York is strong. New York is capable. New York will remain strong.”
Mr. Cuomo’s message — “this is New York” not some annex of the remote countryside in Pennsylvania — caught the eye of many New Yorkers who’ve been looking for ways to justify the maximum number of guns at such a time as this. It was a stirring epigram, and Cuomo seemed to have a point. But now he must demonstrate a deeper understanding of the gun laws at hand, if he wants to present himself as the statesman best prepared to figure out a way forward.
What is “New York gun law”? The answer, for many months, has been “nothing much.” The first stringent firearms legislation in decades did eventually pass New York State. But in what was quickly branded “New York gun law” — despite having been in effect long before the first self-identified terrorist in Manhattan ever owned a gun — it sparked no more debate than the first big gun laws around the country. Its fingerprints were everywhere, but perhaps none as visible as on the list of temporary conditions that were imposed by the judge, serving as a template for new legislation. At least with regard to the core issue of whether New York should restrict the market for firearms, the answer was “very” and the solution was “a little.”