Cuomo ramps up pressure against gun makers

Gov. Andrew Cuomo hands a pen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Aalayah Eastmond, left, as he signs a bill Tuesday at John Jay College of Criminal Justice that bars domestic abusers from owning guns. At right is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.Associated Press 

ALBANY — Five years after New York enacted the nation’s strictest controls on assault weapons, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing for new gun-control measures and wants banks and insurers to sever ties with gunmakers and their advocates.

Cuomo, a Democrat seeking a third term as governor, says he wants “every individual, company and organization that does business across the state” to make gun safety “a top priority.”

To that end, the state Department of Financial Services Commissioner Maria Vullo, a Cuomo appointee, on April 19 urged the banks and insurance companies regulated by her agency to sever any ties they may have with the National Rifle Association and similar groups.

The Cuomo-led push has raised the eyebrows of gun rights advocates in Albany and elsewhere.

Sens. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda; and James Seward, R-Milford; both argued that it is inappropriate for a state regulatory agency such as the Department of Financial Services to pressure companies under its purview to comply with the political agenda of New York’s chief executive.

Vullo’s letter to companies regulated by her agencies was “almost Orwellian,” Ortt said. “Advising institutions to rethink their relationship with an organization that has millions of law-abiding Americans is not the way our government is supposed to work.”

Seward, chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee, said financial services companies can capably decide on their own whether there are risks involved in being associated with the gun industry or the NRA.

He also said he was concerned with the potential impact on a major employer in his district, the Remington Arms company in the Herkimer County village of Ilion, which has some 1,000 workers at the plant producing a variety of guns.

Seward suggested that Vullo had overstepped the parameters of her statutory authority in sending out such a communication to regulated companies.

A Vullo spokeswoman, Ciara Marangas, told CNHI she could not comment on whether any companies agreed to break ties with the gun industry. She also would not say whether the letter got any responses at all. Any such communications would be private, she added.

One company that did react — though not in the way encouraged by the Cuomo administration — was Hornaday Manufacturing Co., a Nebraska-based maker of ammunition. Its president, Steve Hornaday, said that his company will now not allow its products to be sold to any New York state agencies in response to what he called Vullo’s “blatant and disgusting abuse of office.”

Tom King, the director of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, said he and other gun rights advocates are now considering potential legal options for responding to the Vullo letter.

Cuomo, meanwhile, is calling for still tighter gun laws. This week, he signed legislation that allows judges the option of taking away guns from people accused of domestic violence. He also called the current three-day background check period to purchase a gun “ludicrous,” arguing it needs to be extended to 10 days “so we have time to do a right background check.”

Cuomo also defended one of his legislative centerpieces — the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act — signed into law in January 2013, just weeks after 20 children and six adults were shot to death by a mentally ill man at a Connecticut school. While that controversial law has been “politically hurtful to me,” Cuomo said, it has not infringed on the rights of gun owners.

The law requires pistol owners to get recertified every five years, bans arms the state defines as assault weapons, sets up a mental-health database and imposes limits on magazine capacity.

“Legal gun owners still have their guns,” Cuomo said at an event where he was joined by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “The world didn’t stop spinning on its axis. It wasn’t a slippery slope for us to come in and take people’s guns.”

But another proposed restriction — one that would eliminate shooting and archery programs from public schools — is being considered by the Democrat-led Assembly in Albany. The legislation was advanced by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat, in response to the massacre at a public school in Parkland, Fla., in February. She contends that students should not be allowed to fire any weapons on school grounds.

King argued that shooting clubs help to instill safety practices and promote a sense of responsibility for high school students who join them.

Ortt predicted Rosenthal’s proposal will not gain any traction in the GOP-led state Senate.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com

INSIDE 

• Agency deems NRA-backed gun insurance invalid. Page 6

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