New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is making the rounds of national news programs now that he has become the target of a lawsuit filed by the National Rifle Association. Cuomo, a gun control advocate, is asking other states to join him in fighting what he says is an “extremist” organization. The NRA says it is Cuomo who has a political “vendetta” against the group that could lead to its demise.
In 2013, Cuomo convinced the state legislature, shortly after the Sandy Hook, Connecticut school shooting, to pass a gun control measure that became known as the SAFE Act. It requires stricter regulation of the sale of firearms and bans assault weapons in New York. The governor spoke about it in his State of the State speech that year.
“No one hunts with an assault rifle,” Cuomo said on January 9th, 2013. “No one needs ten bullets to kill a deer, and too many innocent people have died already.”
Cuomo earned the enmity of some Second Amendment rights advocates, largely from upstate, but the measure has gained support amongst New Yorkers over the years, with polls showing the majority of residents support it, even among those who live north of New York City.
In 2018, facing a primary challenge on the left from actor and education advocate Cynthia Nixon in his run for a third term, Cuomo is proudly owning a new dispute that’s developed between the state and the NRA.
The NRA claims recent actions by the Cuomo Administration amount to a blacklisting of the organization and could even force it into bankruptcy. The state Department of Financial Services, or DFS, in May declared an insurance policy offered by the NRA known as Carry Guard to be illegal. The DFS says the policy “unlawfully provided liability insurance to gun owners for certain acts of intentional wrongdoing,” including criminal defense when a gun owner or any of their family members in their household claim self defense when they kill or injure someone with a gun. The policies included coverage for bail money, and attorney’s fees.
Cuomo spoke about it on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
“And this insurance product was called 'carry guard.' It was designed for people who carry weapons, and it basically insured them for an intentional bad act,” Cuomo said on the program. “ The expression was ‘murder insurance’.”
The Financial Services agency also fined Lockton Companies, LLC, which administered the Carry Guard policy in New York, $7 million dollars, because the NRA does not have a license to conduct insurance business in the state. Lockton agreed to no longer sell the policies in New York.
The NRA, within days, launched a lawsuit, claiming that the Department of Financial Services ruling was attempting to “deprive the NRA and its constituents of their First Amendment rights to speak freely about gun-related issues and defend the Second Amendment.”
In amended legal papers filed in late July and first reported by the New York Law Journal, the NRA says the ruling had a domino effect, and since then, several financial institutions have ended their business dealings with the NRA.
The group says if it can no longer sell the insurance policy and earn profits from the product, it will hobble the multi-million dollar organization and hamper its advocacy work, including its NRA TV division.
The lawsuit also accuses Cuomo of going after the NRA for political purposes, saying the governor is an “opportunist who has consistently sought to gain political capital by attacking the NRA.”
There’s some skepticism that the NRA could really be as financially set back as it claims in the suit, but Cuomo is taking them at their word, for now. His campaign has produced a digital ad that mocks the standard response by some gun rights advocates when a mass shooting takes place.
“If the NRA goes away, I’ll remember the NRA in my thoughts and prayers,” Cuomo said.
He has also sent out a fundraising email to donors, asking them to contribute to support his efforts to “end the NRA’s stranglehold.”
Cuomo has also sent a letter to the governors of other states, asking them to “examine” their laws to see if a similar insurance policy is being sold in their state, and to also block the sale of NRA related products.
And on Friday, Cuomo filed a motion to dismiss the NRA lawsuit against New York, calling it “frivolous.”
The campaign of Cuomo’s opponent in the Democratic primary, Cynthia Nixon , in a response to the governor’s feud with the NRA, accused Cuomo of “hypocrisy.” Nixon spokeswoman Lauren Hitt says Cuomo wasn’t always on the opposite side from the NRA. She points out that Cuomo, who has a record of support for gun control, chose Kathy Hochul in 2014 as his running mate for Lieutenant Governor. Hochul at the time had an A+ rating from the NRA.
"The governor likes to paint himself as the enemy of the NRA now, but 4 years ago when he felt he needed a more conservative running mate, he was only too happy to embrace Kathy Hochul and her A rating from the NRA,” Hitt said in a statement, “And he's still running with her today!”