New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency over gun violence in the state.
The nation has seen a spike in crime in many places during the pandemic, but New York’s increase in violence has garnered heightened attention from viral videos of sudden sidewalk attacks, brutal subway abuse, and random gunfire in Times Square. New York’s increase in gun crimes does indeed outpace many other states. New York City experienced a 73 percent increase in shooting incidents between May of 2020 and May of 2021. In comparison, Washington DC, which also experienced a spike in gun crimes, reported a 23 percent increase during the first five months of 2021.
And yet, New York has long employed some of the strictest gun laws in the country. In the city, where most of the violence is concentrated, it is virtually impossible for anyone outside of law enforcement to obtain a gun permit—they often can’t even have them in their homes, much less on their person.
Commenting on his executive order, Cuomo said there are currently more people dying in New York by gun violence and crime than of COVID-19. “We went from one epidemic to another epidemic,” he said. “We went from Covid to the epidemic of gun violence and the fear and the death that goes along with it.”
The governor also picked up a familiar talking point that other leaders in strict gun control areas have relied on when facing rampant gun violence. He blamed neighboring states. According to Cuomo, many of the illegal guns in the state are purchased from outside of New York. “I have a vision of a border war because we wasted so much time and money in this nation fighting illegal immigration,” he said. “Illegal immigration is not killing Americans! Illegal guns are killing Americans.”
If at First You Don’t Succeed
While not all of the policies under Cuomo’s new plan to combat violence focus on gun control, his executive order indicates these policies will get more than their fair share of resources.
The executive order creates an Office of Gun Violence Prevention, which the administration says will coordinate efforts and direct resources to emerging gun violence hot spots. It also creates a new state police Gun Trafficking Interdiction Unit that will focus on illegal guns being transported into the state. According to the descriptions under the executive order, the powers and resources given to these new government agencies will be pretty sweeping. And there’s no telling what their final cost will be.
For those who’ve followed the issue of gun control, many of these initiatives look familiar. They say if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Democrats seem to have taken that motto to heart as they continue to approach spikes in crime and gun violence with more of the same failed policies that led to the problem in the first place.
Gun control has not only failed to make a dent in crime, as evidenced by New York’s own “epidemic” among others, it has cost many innocent people their lives as well.
Millions of Americans carry guns every day and use them to prevent crimes. Notably, every victim of gun violence in New York was first a victim of authoritarian and unconstitutional laws in the state that robbed them of their right to self-defense.
On top of that, gun control represents a tremendous opportunity cost. When you create criminals out of law-abiding, non-violent people—as gun control does—you expand the pool of people that law enforcement must police. Instead of police spending their time identifying and apprehending those who’ve committed violence with a gun, they spend their time identifying and tracking down people who merely have a gun—a much larger group of people, most of whom will never commit violence. This means we’re actually less likely to catch criminals as we spread our resources too thin across a large number of people who are not a threat, versus honing in on the small percentage of the population who are .
If you’re familiar with studies on deterrence, you know that the actual best deterrent to crime is the assuredness that a person will be caught and held accountable. Those who commit harm in the US know that that is almost certainly not the reality they are facing. We solve an abysmally low percentage of crimes, and much of this is to blame on an overabundance of laws and spreading our resources too thin.
The Seen and the Unseen
In his classic essay, That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Not Seen, Frederic Bastiat explains that people tend to focus only on the beneficial aspects of a policy (“the seen”), and neglect its potentially negative consequences (“the unseen”).
In this case, Cuomo seems to be fixating on “the seen.” The governor sees an item involved in crime and believes he can eliminate the object and therefore eliminate the behavior. He never stops to consider the lives that could have been saved had they had access to guns (but we know that number is high), nor does he consider the ways the resources he wastes on product bans could be redirected towards policies that actually work to make communities safer.
Gun control proponents may never admit the numerous failures under their policies, but executive orders like this one spell it out loud and clear. Sometimes actions speak louder than words.