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Interstate Task Force on Illegal Guns meets, gun violence prevention director appointed

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin look at a wall monitor with New York City Mayor Eric Adams on it.
New York NOW
(left to right) New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin.

Gov. Kathy Hochul convened a first-in-the-nation Interstate Task Force on Illegal Guns Wednesday, bringing together representatives from nine states to drill down on New York’s recent rise in gun violence. The task force will include law enforcement leaders from New York, Rhodie Island, Vermont, Ohio, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

Hochul, speaking to reporters in the Albany area, said the problem is national, but that her focus is New York, where the problem has been particularly pronounced in minority neighborhoods.

“Black Americans are eight times more likely to be murder victims than their white counterparts,” Hochul said.

There is no timeline on when the task force will issue recommendations on curbing gun crime, but Hochul said she was optimistic that the work would be swift.

The problem of gun violence was brought into the spotlight in recent days after two officers with the New York City Police Department, Wilbert Mora and Jason Rivera, were shot and killed while responding to a domestic call in Harlem.

Hochul also announced that Calliana S. Thomas would be her pick to lead the newly created Office of Gun Violence Prevention, which will be housed in the state Department of Health. Thomas is from Harlem, where Officers Mora and Rivera were shot. She previously worked with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Violence Prevention Program.

Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, also from Harlem, has been a key official in the Hochul administration’s response to gun violence, and said the shooting of an 11-month-old child earlier this month showed the urgency of the problem.

“Two individuals were out, and one shot the baby in the face. Celebrated her first year on this earth in a hospital,” Benjamin said. “That is not the kind of life we want for any of our children.”

Benjamin said holding both the individuals and the firearm supply chain accountable would be important to address gun violence. Hochul touted gun manufacturer liability legislation she signed last year as being a part of that accountability process.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who’s made gun violence a top priority of his administration since taking office this month, said during a virtual appearance at the event, that gun violence is a multi-tiered problem that needs a multi-tiered solution.

“We have to analyze every river, and dam every river to stop the flow. We need to understand, what are we doing legislatively on the state level, that is allowing dangerous people to return to our streets. We need to understand why the guns are continually flowing to the cities throughout this country,” Adams said.

“We need to understand why we are continuing to produce broken children that turn into broken adults, and become broken people to commit violence.”

Adams, this week, voiced criticism of New York’s bail reform law, and called for more judicial discretion at arraignment, which would allow judges to remand people who they deem an immediate danger to public safety. Democratic leaders in both houses of the Legislature have recently voiced opposition to any further rollbacks of the reforms, which were enacted just over two years ago.

Hochul was asked again about her stance on the issue, but hasn’t taken a definitive position yet.

“I’m looking for the data that shows me that bail reform is the reason that somehow crime is going up in 90 of 100 cities in New York, why guns are flowing from Georgia with more frequency, and Virginia, and Ohio to here than they were,” Hochul said.

“I’m focused on dealing with what I have control over right now, and that is my laser focus.”

As the appetite for changes to bail reform is minimal in both majority conferences in the Legislature, an overhaul of the law seems unlikely at this point.