Politicians seeking to diminish Second Amendment rights often couch their views in language that hides their true agenda. But, on January 17, pro-gun advocates were squarely confronted with the contempt in which they are held by some political elites. Speaking on “The Capitol Pressroom” public radio program, Governor Andrew Cuomo labeled gun rights supporters who are “pro-assault weapon” and critical of his so-called safe Act as “extreme conservatives” who “have no place in the state of New York.” Ironically, this statement says more about Cuomo himself than those he attacks.
Besides being arrogant and dismissive, these comments ignore reality in the Empire State. The safe Act was passed under cover of night, and bypassed normal legislative procedures. Its own proponents obviously knew it would be controversial. Indeed, opposition to the law has been widespread, including among law enforcement groups such as the New York State Sheriffs’ Association. Further, the constitutionality of the act is still being litigated. As noted elsewhere in this issue, a case supported by NRA and the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association challenging the law is progressing through the federal courts, and parts of the law have already been blocked by a federal judge.
One likely reason Cuomo considers those who defend the Second Amendment to be extreme is that he does not believe the amendment protects an individual right at all. As attorney general of New York, Cuomo signed onto a brief defending the District of Columbia’s handgun ban in the landmark Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller. The brief argued the Second Amendment did not protect an individual right but instead “was intended to protect state sovereignty by restricting the federal government’s ability to regulate gun ownership in ways that would interfere with state militias.” Following the court’s affirmation of the individual right interpretation, a Gallup poll showed that 73 percent of Americans agreed with the decision, leaving Cuomo in a small minority.
In 1998, as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the Clinton administration, Cuomo’s radical push to have the federal government support frivolous lawsuits against the gun industry faced resistance even from within the decidedly anti-gun White House. One White House insider opined that the scheme “smells like Cuomo” and that the Justice Department wouldn’t want to pursue the case. “How can you blame gun manufacturers for illegal weapons brought into public housing by tenants and non-tenants,” he asked. “Where is the conspiracy?”