by Bob Barr
In a breathtaking assault on the Constitution of the United States, Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week signed a new law and an executive order targeting his self-declared “Gun Violence Disaster Emergency.”
While the governor’s disdain for the Second Amendment is well-known, the degree to which his July 6 executive order targets the amendment is unprecedented. His actions undercut not only the right to keep and bear arms codified in the Second Amendment, but also broader rights guaranteed against government intrusion by the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the fundamental right to contract protected in the main body of the Constitution.
Even before Cuomo’s brazen executive action last week, New York maintained among the broadest and strictest gun control measures of any state, according to which, among other restrictions, it is almost impossible for a citizen to obtain a required permit to purchase a handgun or secure permission for a concealed carry permit.
Despite the existing array of gun control mandates, Cuomo decided the Empire State now suffers from a “gun violence” emergency necessitating even more extreme measures. The executive order issued last week based on this bogus conclusion, is modeled after COVID pandemic executive mandates Cuomo issued last year, which were used by officials to strip New Yorkers of the most basic of civil liberties.
The “gun violence” on which Cuomo premised his dictatorial actions has nothing to do with lawful ownership of firearms by citizens of the state.
The increased violent crime under which New Yorkers are now suffering is a product of disastrous measures undertaken by the governor, the state’s attorney general, and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio that stripped law enforcement of the tools needed to combat violent crime on the streets and in neighborhoods from Albany to the Bronx. These actions reflect the absurd notion that “reimagining” law enforcement by weakening law enforcement, will result in lowered crime rates. When, predictably, the opposite has happened, Cuomo’s response is to blame lawful gun owners and strip away their civil liberties.
Collaterally damaged by Cuomo’s most recent assault on the Second Amendment is another vital civil liberty — the sanctity of contracts expressly guaranteed by Article I of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits a state from “impairing the Obligation of Contracts.” This provision reflects what our Framers understood to be one of the very pillars of a free people – the assurance that a legal contract between individuals would be protected against abusive government action.
Now, however, in New York contracts that in some vague manner might be considered inconsistent with what Cuomo considers his declared “gun violence disaster emergency,” are subject to being nullified. The extremely broad reach of these provisions in the executive order could be used, for example, to abrogate leases for properties relied on by lawful gun retailers, or to close out bank accounts or banking transactions that directly or indirectly involve the sale or purchase of lawful firearms.
As if these constitutionally troubling July 6 executive actions by Cuomo were not enough, on the same day he signed into law legislation permitting lawsuits against lawful firearms manufacturers and retailers for engaging in a “public nuisance.” This state law conflicts with a 2005 federal law that permits suits against gun retailers or manufacturers only in limited circumstances similar to the liability standard for other manufactured products that can be misused, such as automobiles.
As a result, any firearm manufacturer whose product is sold in New York, or any retailer within the state who sells such a product, now could be subject to being sued based on such action alone. This predicament reflects the extremely broad “public nuisance” laws in the state, coupled with the declaration of a gun-violence emergency under which any firearm can be considered as contributing to that “emergency.”
If all this sounds absurd, it is. However, until these laws and executive actions are challenged successfully (which they ultimately almost certainly will be), Cuomo’s destructive “reimagining” of individual rights has cast New York citizens into an even deeper and darker constitutional hole.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.