Gov. Andrew Cuomo is making the rounds of national news programs now that he has become the target of a lawsuit by the National Rifle Association.
Cuomo, a gun control advocate, is asking other states to join him in fighting what he said is an “extremist” organization. The NRA said it’s Cuomo who has a political “vendetta” against the group that could lead to its demise.
Cuomo in 2013 convinced the state Legislature, shortly after the Sandy Hook, Connecticut, school shooting, to pass a gun control measure that became known as the SAFE Act. It requires stricter regulation of the sale of firearms and bans assault weapons in New York. The governor spoke about it in his State of the State speech that year.
“No one hunts with an assault rifle,” Cuomo said on Jan. 9, 2013. “No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer, and too many innocent people have died already.”
Cuomo earned the enmity of some Second Amendment rights advocates, largely from upstate, but the measure has gained support among New Yorkers over the years, with polls showing that the majority of residents support it, even among those who live north of New York City.
In 2018, facing a primary challenge on the left from actor and education advocate Cynthia Nixon for his run for a third term, Cuomo is proudly owning a new dispute that’s developed between the state and the NRA.
The NRA claims recent actions by the Cuomo administration amount to a blacklisting of the organization and could even force it into bankruptcy. The state Department of Financial Services, or DFS, in May declared illegal an insurance policy offered by the NRA known as Carry Guard.
The DFS said the policy “unlawfully provided liability insurance to gun owners for certain acts of intentional wrongdoing,” including criminal defense when a gun owner or any of their family members in their household claim self-defense when they kill or injure someone with a gun. The policies included coverage for bail money and attorney’s fees.
Cuomo spoke about it on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
“And this insurance product was called ‘Carry Guard.’ It was designed for people who carry weapons, and it basically insured them for an intentional bad act,” Cuomo said on the program. “The expression was ‘murder insurance.’ ”
The Financial Services agency also fined Lockton Companies LLC — which administered the Carry Guard policy in New York — $7 million because the NRA does not have a license to conduct insurance business in the state. Lockton agreed to no longer sell the policies in New York.
Within days, the NRA launched a lawsuit, claiming that the DFS ruling was attempting to “deprive the NRA and its constituents of their First Amendment rights to speak freely about gun-related issues and defend the Second Amendment.”
In amended legal papers filed in late July and first reported by the New York Law Journal, the NRA said the ruling had a domino effect, and since then, several financial institutions have ended their business dealings with the NRA.
The group said if it can no longer sell the insurance policy and earn profits from the product, it will hobble the multimillion-dollar organization and hamper its advocacy work, including its NRA TV division.
The lawsuit also accuses Cuomo of going after the NRA for political purposes, saying the governor is an “opportunist who has consistently sought to gain political capital by attacking the NRA.”
There’s some skepticism that the NRA could be as badly financially harmed as it claims in the suit, but Cuomo is taking it at its word, for now. His campaign has produced a digital ad that mocks the standard response by some gun rights advocates when a mass shooting takes place.
“If the NRA goes away, I’ll remember the NRA in my thoughts and prayers,” Cuomo said.
He also has sent out a fundraising email to donors, asking them to support his efforts to “end the NRA’s stranglehold.”
Cuomo also has sent a letter to the governors of other states, asking them to “examine” their laws to see if a similar insurance policy is being sold in their state and also block the sale of the NRA-related products.
And on Friday, Cuomo filed a motion to dismiss the NRA lawsuit against New York, calling it “frivolous.”
Nixon’s campaign, in a response to the governor’s feud with the NRA, accused Cuomo of “hypocrisy.”
Nixon spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said Cuomo wasn’t always on the opposite side from the NRA. She pointed out that in 2014, he chose Kathy Hochul as his running mate for lieutenant governor. Hochul at the time had an A+ rating from the NRA.
"The governor likes to paint himself as the enemy of the NRA now — but four years ago, when he felt he needed a more conservative running mate, he was only too happy to embrace Kathy Hochul and her A rating from the NRA,” Hitt said in a statement. “And he's still running with her today!”