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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Governor Cuomo Advances First-in-the-Nation Domestic Terrorism Law to Include Mass Violence Motivated By Hate

Governor Andrew Cuomo advances First-In-The-Nation Domestic Terrorism Law to include mass violence motivated hate. August 15, 2019. New York. Gov Andrew Cuomo Flickr Page Photo.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently advanced a first-in-the-nation domestic terrorism law to include mass violence motivated by hate. Under this proposal, mass shootings against a group of people based on their actual or perceived race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, gender identity or expression, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation would be punishable by up to life in prison without parole. 

This change would effectively treat these acts as they should: as terrorist crimes, carrying the same penalty as other terrorist crimes. The Governor also called on the federal government to enact a new federal domestic terrorism law that would finally define acts of homegrown terror committed on United States soil as terrorism. He also called on the federal government to ban the weapons most often used to perpetrate these mass killings--military style assault weapons and high capacity magazines - and to enact universal background checks.

"We still treat terrorism as an act committed by foreigners," Governor Cuomo said. "It is, but only in part - it is now a two front war on terrorism. It's fed by hate: 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 are still terrorists. Today, our people are three times more likely to suffer a terrorist attack launched by an American than one launched by a foreigner. It is not just repulsive, immoral, and anti-American - it is illegal and we must confront it by enacting a new law to fit the crime."


Recent mass shootings such as those at a Wal-Mart in El Paso, a nightclub in Orlando, a church in Charleston, and synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway were crimes intended to terrorize entire segments of the American citizenry. These acts are not currently treated as acts of terror; the legislation the Governor is proposing today would classify them as acts of terror.

The new state legislation the Governor is proposing today calls these acts what they are: terrorism. Under this proposal, the intent standard mirrors the standard in New York's existing hate crimes law and creates a new domestic terrorism hate crime punishable by up to life in prison without parole.

The new statute proposed by the Governor would define mass casualty as any incident that results in the murder of at least one person and the attempted murder of at least two additional people and when that violence is motivated by hate. This definition of mass casualty would parallel the FBI's definition of a mass killing - which is defined as three or more deaths.

Finally, the bill would also create a domestic terrorism task force to study mass shootings, recommend practices to prevent potential mass shootings and shooting incidents and recommend security practices in locations likely to be targeted by mass shooters. This task force would be required to provide its finding to the Governor and the Legislature.


The Governor also called on the federal government to enact a new federal domestic terrorism law that would finally define acts of homegrown terror committed on United States soil as terrorism. He called on the federal government to pass legislation mirroring New York State's nation-leading gun safety laws, including banning the weapons most often used to perpetrate mass killings-military style assault weapons and high capacity magazines - and requiring universal background checks.

Under Governor Cuomo's leadership, New York has passed the strongest gun control laws in the nation, including the SAFE Act in 2013 which keeps guns out of the hands of convicted felons and individuals with a mental illness, ensures private gun sales are subject to a background check, bans high-capacity magazines and assault weapons, and toughens criminal penalties for illegal gun use. 

Since the passage of the SAFE Act, 139,371 reports from mental health professionals have been received by state officials intended to keep weapons away from people with mental illnesses that are likely to "engage in conduct that will cause serious harm to self or others." These reports - which represent nearly 98,000 people with a potential dangerous mental disposition - are used to notify appropriate local licensing officials who suspend or revoke weapon licenses and prompt local law enforcement officials to remove weapons that are not surrendered. 

New York State passed the laws six years ago and they have worked. No legal gun owners' rights have been violated but unnecessary, dangerous weapons are off the streets and dangerously mentally ill people cannot by guns.

The Governor also recently enacted the Red Flag bill to prevent individuals who pose a risk to themselves or others from purchasing a firearm. New York became the first state in the nation to empower its teachers and school administrators to help prevent school shootings through court intervention. This law also targets the well-known link between domestic abuse and deadly gun violence. 

The Governor continued to build on New York's nation-leading gun laws this year with comprehensive legislation to: extend the background check waiting period; ban bump stocks; ban undetectable guns; expand firearm safe storage laws; prevent school districts from arming teachers; and establish statewide regulations for gun buyback programs.

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