ALBANY ON THE MARCH
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Governor Cuomo’s Thursday, Aug. 14, speech to the New York City Bar Association, where he proposed the nation’s first Hate Crimes Domestic Terrorism Act.
We must begin by recognizing the crisis for what it is because you will never solve a problem in life you are unwilling to admit, and today New York State acknowledges the ugly truth: that we have an enemy within, an American cancer, where one cell in the body politic attacks the other cells in the body. It spreads in the hidden corners of the internet, and from the highest positions in the land, and it infects sick and hate-filled hearts. This new violent epidemic is hate fueled American on American terrorism.
We still treat terrorism as an act committed by foreigners. It is. But that is only part of it. It is now a two-front war on terrorism. It is fed by hate, but hate from abroad and hate right here at home: white supremacists, anti-Semites, anti-LGBTQ, white nationalists. These are Americans committing mass hate crimes against other Americans and it should be recognized for what it is: domestic terrorism. American citizens who are radicalized – not by a foreign ideology but rather radicalized by hate for other Americans – but that is still terrorism.
Today, our people are three times more likely to suffer a terrorist attack launched by an American than one launched by a foreigner. Now this is not just repulsive. This is not just immoral. This is not just anti-American. It is illegal. And we must confront it by enacting a new law to fit the crime. That is why today I propose that New York State pass a national precedent, a Hate Crimes Domestic Terrorism Act for any person who kills in a mass attack on the basis of race, religion, creed, or sexual orientation.
The penalty should be the same as it is for other terrorism crimes, up to life without parole, because these are hate crimes on steroids. They are mass hate crimes and they are terrorism. And the punishment should fit the crime, period. In the state of New York, it will.
Now, as we address the cancer of hate we must also address the instrumentality of the hate, and that is the syringe that injects the cancer in the American body. That is guns. Guns in the wrong hands and guns that are extraordinarily dangerous. Now the federal government is not impotent on this issue. It is politically paralyzed.
The federal government can and has tackled this issue before. In 1934, to combat gangsterism President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed legislation to regulate machine guns and sawed off shotguns. In 1968, in the wake of the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King the federal government passed legislation banning mail order gun sales. In 1994, the Clinton administration enacted a 10-year ban on assault weapons and it instituted the first system for background checks. So we know the federal government can do it when you have the political will.
Here in New York, we saw what was going to happen. We saw the violent future in the bloodshed of the Sandy Hook massacre. That was six years ago and we acted. We passed the SAFE Act. The same law that the nation still needs to pass today. It is the same law the nation should pass today. Ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Start universal background checks. Close all those loopholes. The SAFE Act was six years ago, before another 2,458 Americans and before another 9,000 were wounded.
Now, passing the SAFE Act wasn’t easy. It was hard, but it was right. And also it showed that all the NRA’s fear mongering was false. There was no slippery slope. No one’s gun was taken. In six years no one has ever complained to me that they have been denied a gun that they were legally entitled to own.
The SAFE Act shows that you can do this and you can do it intelligently and you can protect people from dangerous weapons and still respect legal gun owners’ rights. Now people today ask if El Paso is a tipping point, is El Paso a moment of change. I say, there is no magical moment that creates change. Leadership creates the change. The SAFE Act didn’t just happen. The New York Legislature had to choose between the gun lobby and public safety and they had to do it in the aftermath of a horrendous tragedy. And it was a tough vote but the New York State Legislature stood up, they took that courageous vote, and they passed it and they did it on a bipartisan basis.
…My friends, we know that New York State is at her best when she leads the nation through troubled times, and we do it by reminding Americans what America really means. We lead by example, by what we do – by passing the best gun law in the nation and now by proposing a new terrorism law to combat our new American terrorists. It is going to be the first law of its kind in the nation.