New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t been shy about making his disdain for the National Rifle Association public. During this past election, Cuomo’s campaign even sent out a mailer shouting in bold letters: “If the NRA goes bankrupt, I will remember them in my thoughts and prayers.”
But when Cuomo decided to use state regulators to threaten financial institutions that do business with gun manufacturers and gun-rights associations, he opened a new front that could have far-reaching consequences on First Amendment-protected speech.
The NRA filed a lawsuit last spring after it became known that Cuomo ordered the state’s Department of Financial Services to tell the banks, insurance companies, and other financial firms it oversees “to review any relationships they may have with the National Rifle Association and other similar organizations. Upon this review, the companies are encouraged to consider whether such ties harm their corporate reputations and jeopardize public safety.”
Despite this direct attack on First Amendment-protected freedom of association, Cuomo won reelection easily, in part because even a rebuke by the liberal American Civil Liberties Union on this issue didn’t get mainstream news outlets to investigate and report the consequences if Cuomo wins in court.
The ACLU, of course, doesn’t mind Cuomo’s attacks on gun rights, as they consider the Second Amendment a lesser right if one at all. The ACLU stepped in with a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the NRA in this case because Cuomo had gone after the First Amendment rights of associations like the NRA.
Last November a judge agreed to let the NRA’s lawsuit proceed. U.S. District Judge Thomas McAvoy of the Northern District of New York wrote: “The allegations of direct and implied threats to insurers and financial institutions because of these entities’ links with the NRA, and the allegations of resulting harm to the NRA’s operations, are sufficient to make out plausible First Amendment freedom-of-speech claims.”
Now, it’s worth noting that this entire line of attack on the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms and the First Amendment’s right to associate with whom we chose and to speak freely with others wouldn’t have even been politically possible for Cuomo if the mainstream media treated this issue with a little curiosity—honesty might be too much to hope for.
It’s also worth pointing out that if Cuomo gets away with this First Amendment infringement, these same media members might be next. It is not hard to imagine a politician deciding that, if gun owners and their associations can be silenced and harmed financially for political ends, then they are free to go after other marginalized groups that are problems for them politically. Politicians, so emboldened, have come after members of the media before.
But it isn’t even necessary to weigh the theoretical consequences of this constitutional overstep by Cuomo, as there are already real victims of Cuomo’s zealotry. Cuomo has long been after gun owners and gun makers, a manufacturing sector that still makes its goods in America. Even today, two-thirds of this industry’s products sold in America are made in America.
This isn’t some manufacturing sector that just assembles products in the USA to avoid tariffs, either. This industry cuts and pounds steel into intricate shapes right here in America. This manufacturing sector directly employs about 150,000 mostly blue-collar Americans who make products for more than 100 million Americans who now own over 300 million guns. In fact, more than 17 million of these people have concealed-carry permits for handguns—and that’s not counting the people who carry concealed in the 14 states that now don’t require permits for people to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms.
Cuomo’s impact on them hasn’t just been theoretical. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade associate for firearms manufacturers (full disclosure: I’ve done some contract work for the NSSF), estimates that in 2013 some one million gun owners in New York State alone became potential felons thanks to Cuomo and other Democrats, as these people owned semiautomatic rifles or shotguns the state deemed “assault weapons.”
Only a small percentage of the residents of New York registered these firearms by a deadline. Many of these people are now living outside the law. Many local sheriffs have said they won’t enforce this law, but the threat still hangs over them.
Cuomo has shown no interest in sending his state police out to arrest and prosecute these presumably otherwise law-abiding people. Doing that wouldn’t be politically savvy. The state also might lose in court, especially on appeal, as these semiautomatic firearms are certainly in “common use” in America and, as the Supreme Court decided in Heller v. D.C. (2008), firearms in common use are protected by the Second Amendment.
All of this seems okay with Cuomo. He is following today’s liberal-progressive playbook of shunning and maligning the many Americans who own and carry guns, as it is far easier to attack and marginalize a faceless politically incorrect group than to deal with them one by one in court.
The mainstream media has given Cuomo political cover to do this. Their treatment of this issue has even emboldened Cuomo so much that he decided he could use state agencies to try to end the financial relationships of gun companies and civil-liberties groups, such as the NRA. The courts will hopefully stop Cuomo’s attack on First Amendment rights. Either way, many in the mainstream media are now complicit in direct assault on the First Amendment.