Governor Cuomo: "No one wants to take guns from legal owners who are mentally healthy. We don't want people who are mentally ill or past felons to have guns. That's all this is. And any reasonable American who looks at what's going on in this country, I believe agrees with that, if we can just de-politicize it."
Governor Called for Passage of Legislation to Make New York's Nation-Leading Gun Laws Even Stronger within First 100 Days of 2019 Legislative Session as Part of 2019 Justice Agenda
TV Quality Video of Governor Cuomo Calling for Stronger Gun Laws Available Here
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo met with gun safety advocates to discuss legislation that will be advanced today in Albany to help curb gun violence. Governor Cuomo included in his 2019 Justice Agenda legislation known as the Red Flag Bill to keep guns away from mentally ill and other potentially dangerous individuals as well as proposals to ban bump stocks and extend the waiting period for purchasing a gun. The Governor committed to passing these measures in the first 100 days of the 2019 Legislative Session.
AUDIO of the event is available here.
PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the event is available below:
Governor Cuomo: We're here to talk about the issue of gun safety, which is an issue that has been developed for many, many, many years. And people who are joining us this morning are at the vanguard of pushing for gun safety and have done tremendous work. I've worked with them for many years in various capacities. And I think the bills that we expect today will pass in large part because of their advocacy and their ongoing efforts. It's been an uphill battle and for many of them it's been a personal battle, and I personally applaud them for their personal strength.
Linda Beigel Schulman is with us. Michael Schulman is with us. They had a recent tragedy when they lost their son Scott at Parkland. And to take that pain and to turn it into a positive is really one of the greatest tests of character, I think. And what the Schulmans have done has been amazing.
The Moms Who Demand Action have been so effective. I have seen them everywhere across the State, they've organized all across the State. And they've just communicated the facts to people. And that has worked extraordinarily well.
We'll also hear from Rebecca Fisher for New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, that has been working on this issue for many, many years through he various stages. And the basic effort has always been to try to separate the politics from the commonsense solution for this issue. Because the commonsense solution was always obvious, and the commonsense solution was always accepted by the majority of Americans. Whether they were gun owners or non-gun owners.
The modern debate on gun safety really started about 1994. We had gone through gun safety debates in the past, machine guns were at one time legal in the early 1900s, and we decided, common sense, that machine guns were too dangerous. 1994 the debate is federal and they pass the Brady Law banning assault weapons. And that really politicizes the issue into what we see in modern day discourse, I believe.
2000, we were chatting inside, I have a memento on my desk from Smith and Wesson, that I keep on my desk since the year 2000, almost 20 years. In 2000, I'm in the Clinton administration and we sign what's called the Safe Gun Agreement with Smith and Wesson. Smith and Wesson was the largest handgun manufacturer in the United States of America. And the Clinton Administration had gotten involved in numerous lawsuits that were brought against gun manufacturers by states, by Attorneys General, et cetera, for negligence, basic negligence in the distribution of their product. The gun manufacturers were very nervous that one of these lawsuits could actually connect.
We put together a safe code of conduct that would settle all the lawsuits. That was dramatically and revolutionary - no more than 10 bullets in a gun, developing fingerprint ID technology where the trigger would only work for the authorized user, where the manufacturers agreed to close the gun show loopholes and do background checks at all gun shows. This was signed by Smith and Wesson at a Rose Garden ceremony with President Clinton. And it was the largest handgun manufacturer saying, we can do this. We signed the agreement, this was the memento of the day. I had worked to spearhead it for the Clinton Administration.
Smith and Wesson signs, I believe we're poised for the other manufacturers to now follow because Smith and Wesson was the largest manufacturer and we started with the largest because if you can get Smith and Wesson well then the other ones will come along, was the thinking. What happens is the exact opposite. It was just about the time of the Al Gore-Bush election. It became highly politicized. The NRA attack the Smith and Wesson President for cooperating with the Clinton Administration. The Smith and Wesson President said, "I was doing it in my own best interest, I was settling the lawsuits and I was afraid of the lawsuits." The political environment gets so hot they first the president of Smith and Wesson and they boycott Smith and Wesson. And then Bush says in the campaign, "If I become president I will immunize gun manufacturers from liability." The only industry in the United States of America that is immunized from a civil lawsuit are the gun manufacturers. And that polarized the issue in that campaign. The other manufacturers, who we had been talking to about signing the agreement, all back up and said, "Well let's wait and see what happens in the election."
Bush wins the election. He passes the immunity for gun manufacturers. The Smith and Wesson President is fired and we're right back to where we started. And I kept this on my desk ever since.
We passed the SAFE Act right after Sandy Hook - the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut. It was the most comprehensive, most aggressive safe gun agreement in the United States of America. We took tremendous political heat. And people argued "Well, Sandy Hook is a once in a lifetime, that will never happen again. There'll never be another school shooting. Governor Cuomo overreacted and this was just a one-time situation he should have never done this." And it was all political. Obviously, we were right. Sometimes history irrefutably bares out your actions. Sandy Hook, Connecticut was not the last. In many ways it was the first. It was the first of this scourge of violence, and depravity, and mass shootings, and school shootings, which was a phenomenon we had never seen. You look at Parkland, I'm sorry to mention it. But, Sandy Hook, Connecticut, six years ago, Parkland today. It was a precursor. It wasn't the extraordinary exception. And as you know better than I, the numbers have gotten only worse.
The nation is still unable to deal with this issue and politicians are still afraid of this issue. They are afraid of this issue. Not because their fear is not based in reality. I passed the SAFE Act. It cost me tremendously in terms of political popularity, et cetera. I alienated people in this state who I never got back. Why? Because it's such a threshold litmus test issue, it's almost a cultural issue for people. And there's a deep-seeded fear that once government starts to act on guns, well now the slippery slope and they're going to outlaw guns and this is what this is really about. They want to outlaw guns and once you give them a little piece then it's going to take off from there. All garbage. All sensationalism. All meant to frighten people. I now talk about the SAFE Act to prove the exact opposite. We did it six years ago. Hunters, sport people, still have their guns. Nobodies gun was taken away. It's done nothing but good. Over 100,000 people in this state are now on a mental health database, which did not exist before the SAFE Act - 100,000 people who could have walked in and bought a gun, who now can't buy a gun because they're on a mental health database. 43,000 registered assault weapon owners. So you know who owns them and you know where they are and they've passed a background check. So it's done nothing but good.
Anecdotally, the number of incidents in this state, comparable to what's going on nationwide, we haven't been free from violence, but we have been spared from truly mass violence incidents. Thank God. There's no causal relationship necessarily, but I think we sent the right signal and I hope that helped. And today is the next evolution in this ongoing crusade. And it will be ongoing. I raised the point about Smith and Wesson, that's 20 years just for me. And I don't want you to think that the job is over today because it is unfolding. But it is going in the right direction. I think more and more Americans are seeing the problem. And understanding that this has to be depoliticized to come up with common sense reform. And there has to be a way to allow people who can have guns and should have guns to enjoy their guns, but not have the senseless violence where people who are mentally ill, people who are past felons have guns. Or you can literally transfer guns one from the other without any background check, et cetera. And that's the fight that you wage. And we take a big step forward today.
Ban bump stocks. Because they make no sense. There's no legitimate sports person who will say "Oh yes, I use a bump stock." Bump stocks, you can't even aim a gun with a bump stock. The only purpose is rapid fire without any specific aiming. It makes no sense. So banning bump stocks. Increasing the waiting period for people who did not pass the background check. The way we do the background check in this nation is almost in reverse. You can have a right to buy a gun unless a background check says you don't. And right now, if you're not cleared within three days, you have a right to buy the gun. But you're not cleared. "Yes, but the system didn't clear me in three days and if you can't reject in three days, then I'm deemed approved." Why? Some states, by the way, say, you can't buy a gun unless you are affirmatively approved. Right now it's if you're not rejected in three days you can buy a gun. We want to extend that. Many states have 30 days to reject and that makes sense to us.
And the third is what we call the Red Flag law, which is just common sense again. You see so many of these teachers who are interviewed after tragic incidents say, "we knew there was a problem, we knew something was wrong, but what could we do?" Family members who say, "I knew there was something wrong, but what could we do?" Well, there should be something to do. If you believe a person is mentally ill and needs help and has access to guns and could be violent to himself, herself, or others, do something. Do something! Don't wait for the inevitable tragedy. You see a car going off a cliff, don't stand there and watch. So Red Flag law, extreme protection. Give the teacher, give the family member the right to go to a judge, give the person due process, but if they are in a position where they could hurt themselves or others, remove them from guns in the meantime. It is common sense.
Now, you'll see the political extremes rise up, same argument for the past 25 years. "Oh, it's another restriction, it's another slippery slope. They won't be happy until they take my gun." No one wants to take guns from legal owners who are mentally healthy. We don't want people who are mentally ill or past felons to have guns. That's all this is. And any reasonable American who looks at what's going on in this country, I believe agrees with that, if we can just de-politicize it. And that's what the people in this room have done so, so, so well. With that, let me turn it over to Rebecca Fischer. It's my pleasure to be with her again. I've worked with New Yorkers Against Gun Violence for a long, long time. 20 years since you've started.
Rebecca Fischer: 25.
Governor Cuomo: 25.
Rebecca Fischer: That's right.
Governor Cuomo: Oof, am I old. Rebecca Fischer, thank you for your leadership.
Rebecca Fischer: Thank you, Governor Cuomo. Hi, my name is Rebecca Fischer, I'm the executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and as the Governor said, we've been around for 25 years fighting for sensible gun laws at the local, state, and federal levels. This is such an important day for New York and really for the entire nation. Because today, New York is once again setting an example for the rest of the country to follow. Thanks to the leadership of Governor Cuomo and our legislature, we are making New York's gun laws even stronger and even safer. These common sense measures will prevent more senseless tragedies and keep our children and our communities safe. At a time when people across the country are demanding change, Governor Cuomo is listening and he is taking action. He doesn't just talk about it. He's getting it done and he's getting it done early. So on behalf of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, I want to thank the Governor and the legislature for spearheading this lifesaving legislation. Under their leadership, New York has led the way with the strongest gun safety legislation in the country and today, we will all make our laws even stronger. Thank you all to the advocates that have worked together, to the survivors that have fought hard, for all of the lawmakers and today, I am prouder than ever to live in a state that is at the forefront of the fight to end gun violence. Thank you.
Governor Cuomo: Well said as usual, Rebecca. As I mentioned earlier, we have the Schulmans with us. Linda and Michael who lost their son Scott, who grew up on Long Island and went to Florida and was teaching in the Parkland school and was heroic in his efforts to help his students and paid the greatest price. And I hope Linda and Michael can find some peace today in knowing that in many ways, what happened in Parkland really did accelerate public awareness and with their advocacy, brought us to today. So congratulations.
Linda Beigel Schulman: My husband Michael, my son Scott, and I are honored and excited to be here today. I have been working towards passing this—having the Red Flag law passed—since February 15th. It has become my mission. Governor Cuomo told me the very first time that I met him, he said, "we will get this done." And here we are today, just a few steps away from having the Red Flag law passed. And I thank Governor Cuomo and the legislature for putting gun safety on the top of their agenda to get it done. Governor Cuomo, your support and your humanity, which is beyond compare, believing what's right and getting it done and not letting anyone stand in your way, you have my thanks, you have my heart. I know that no matter how senseless and no matter how incomprehensible the Parkland massacre was, Scott's murder was, when we pass the Red Flag law, thanks to you and the legislature, but so thanks to you, Scott's murder will now save lives. I cannot thank you enough.
Governor Cuomo: Again, what the Schulman's have done, Linda and Michael, I have such extraordinary respect for every time I've seen them at an event, let's put it the other way, I haven't been at an event where I haven't seen Linda and Michael, their strength and their power and the intelligence of their story and their message is so powerful. I think it's made a fantastic difference in this discussion. And again, God bless you. Handling the death of a child is probably one of the most difficult things anyone can be asked to do, because it is unnatural; it's not the natural order of life. So God bless you for having the strength to rise above. I hope I would have half that strength in this situation.
But today is another step forward. It's not going to be everything, but it's another step forward. And when you've been at this crusade for as long as I have, you realize sometimes it's stone to stone across the morass. You know, one step at a time and this is a big positive step. But I will tell you this, New York leads the nation. You put the SAFE Act together with this Red Flag Bill, what New York says is you can do this. You can do this. There is a path forward. There is a solution, and we have six years of history to show that the planet does not stop spinning, people don't lose guns, it doesn't bankrupt an industry. None of those myths that they scare you with come true. They're just commonsense reforms and to the extent that New York can make that case to the country, that gives me satisfaction, because we have to get the politics out of the conversation and talk to Americans about basic facts. And that's what we're doing here in New York with your help. So thank you.