Gun violence emergencies: Positive impact, or abuse of executive power?

In July 2021, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo implemented what media described as the first of its kind gun violence state of emergency.

Since then, more communities are saying gun violence is a reason to expand government powers that have traditionally been reserved for things like natural disasters.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who succeeded Cuomo in office, last month extended New York's state of emergency. Dating back more than a year, similar declarations have been put in place in Rochester, New York; Portland, Oregon; and Flint, Michigan.

There is disagreement on how much orders like these impact lowering gun violence.

Marc Joffe, senior policy analyst at the Reason Foundation, said people should be concerned about the rising trend of government using a state of emergency to extend executive powers.

"We should be very concerned about the potential for governors invoking emergency powers to achieve their preferred agenda through emergency orders," Joffe said, "They should not be allowed to take an end run around separation of powers just by waving a flag and saying there is an emergency."

Lars Dalseide, spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said these orders are often nothing more than just "political games."

​"The reason for the spike in violence and crime in most cities across the country, including Rochester and Flint, can be attributed to the ill-advised policies that produce a revolving door criminal justice system," Dalseide said.​ "There is a simple remedy: enforce existing laws by prosecuting and punishing the violent criminals who break these laws. The real issue is either the lack of will or the political games being played by those in power."

On the other side is Christopher E. Smith, board chairman for the Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. He believes the orders in Flint positively impact efforts to combat gun violence, and sees the benefit of additional access to federal money.

The Center Square was unsuccessful in requesting comment from the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association and the New Yorkers Against Gun Violence groups.

In Rochester, former Mayor Lovely Warren declared a gun violence state of emergency in response to rising deadly shootings on Nov. 12, 2021. It was extended by Mayor Malik Evans on July 21, 2022.

According to a news release from the city, "The proclamation gives the mayor broad powers to protect life and property and to bring the emergency under control."

Among those powers, the chief of police was granted the ability to close any commercial building if it was "deemed to be a public nuisance."

On July 21, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced an emergency declaration to address gun violence.

"We will not stop until the gun violence stops," Wheeler said.

Mayor Sheldon Neeley of Flint declared a state of emergency in the city due to gun violence nearly a year earlier, on July 23, 2021, immediately pushing executive orders that "specifically combat gun violence." That emergency order remains in place.

"From the city of Flint website, it appears that the emergency declaration may have somehow given them greater freedom to use federal funds for various means to address problems of gun violence," said Smith, of the Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. "On their face, they appear to reflect a genuine effort to mobilize approaches that might engage with different aspects of the gun violence problem in the city. The executive orders related to the Flint declaration of 'emergency' appears to pursue some of these potentially beneficial approaches."

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