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NY Gov. Kathy Hochul pledges to stop illegal guns from crossing state lines

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin.jpg
WAMC.org
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Ashley Hupfl
Gov. Kathy Hochul and Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin attend illegal guns task force meeting

As gun violence continues to spike, Governor Kathy Hochul is pledging to uncover how illegal guns are crossing state lines into New York.

The Democrat attended the first meeting of the interstate task force on illegal guns Wednesday. The meeting included the State Police, the NYPD, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and more than 50 multi-state law enforcement representatives.

The group, including representatives from eight neighboring states, met for three hours. The goal of the task force is to share intelligence and strategies to combat gun violence, especially the trafficking of firearms between states.

The meeting comes in the wake of a Harlem shooting that killed two NYPD officers responding to a domestic disturbance. Before the meeting, Hochul said the task force was created to stop more potential tragedies.

“Two young men who had their entire lives ahead of them and their family and one with the new spouse and that was all shattered with a gun that was traced back to Baltimore, originating back in 2017," Hochul said. "And that is what we're talking about here today. So, we can get to a point where we don't grieve, we also celebrate our success and know that we have turned the corner on fighting gun violence and this happens with incredible partners.”

The governor also announced the creation of a new Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the state Department of Health. It aims to evaluate the emotional and psychological drivers of what leads people to violence.

Hochul was joined by Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin, who grew up in Harlem.

“I can tell you growing up - the mayor had recently said - that they're about 30 precincts in the city that account for the majority of the violence, I can tell you the majority of my life, I've lived in those precincts and always would wonder where these guns coming from," Hochul said. "I never saw a gun manufacturing facility growing up. I don't know anyone who got a 401k or who has a pension because of working in these facilities. Who is bringing these guns into our communities? So, the question that we are here to ponder is, ‘How is it getting here?’”

A 2016 report by the New York State Attorney General’s office found nearly three-quarters of more than 46,000 guns recovered by law enforcement between 2010 and 2015 originated from outside New York.

Hochul says the state’s strong gun laws are one reason.

“We have very porous borders here in the state of New York. You think about guns that can easily flow in from the state of Pennsylvania, they have different gun laws, and we're proud of the gun laws we have here in the state of New York, and that's why we know that our problem is being caused from out-of-state guns," Hochul said. "So, when we have the opportunity to have interdiction efforts along our border with Pennsylvania, identifying the gun shows, where people are purchasing guns, loading up a trunk and coming up by (interstate) 81 or (interstate) 90 in toward Western New York and then the guns are ending up in our cities, in particular. That's the level of trafficking that we want to zero-in on.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a former officer, joined the conference virtually. The Democrat says the NYPD took more than 6,000 guns off the street in 2021 alone.

“Over 300 guns were removed during my first few weeks in office. They can't do this alone. We cannot continue to lose 22 year-old children because of the failure of the other partners in this fight against gun violence," the Democrat said.

While Democrats blame illegal guns for contributing to the rise in violent crime, Republicans are targeting bail reform laws passed during last year’s legislative session, which vastly decreased the number of criminal charges for which judges can detain people without bail.

State Senate and New York City Republicans held a press conference Thursday blasting the reforms. Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, speaking in New York City, says Hochul is pushing “failed policies” that protect criminals.

“The governor and others are talking about gun violence and combating gun violence and gun violence and illegal guns are the real culprit. I will point out that $159 million that (former) Governor (Andrew) Cuomo laid aside and Governor Hochul has overseen – that has been spent to combat gun violence. Going back this past year $159 million of New Yorkers’ money," the Republican said. "Is it working? $159 million out the door to combat gun violence and gun violence according to Governor Hochul and others is at an all-time high!”

New York state Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Hochul say they are open to discussion about the laws, but are stopping well short of calling for rollbacks. Speaking with reporters before the meeting, Hochul continued to defend the changes.

“I don't feel just because people for political reasons, like the individuals that you're quoting here today, want me to give an answer. That's not how I operate. I don't cave to pressure. I do what's right based on all the facts that come before me,” she said.

Hochul’s office says there will be a follow-up meeting of the task force in the coming weeks and President Joe Biden will be in New York City next week to discuss combating gun crimes.