Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is the Metro Editor for WNYC News. She has previously served as Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
Just a week into the 2013 legislative session, New York has a major piece of legislation under its belt. Yes, this is the government that the Brennan Center for Justice once rated the most dysfunctional among all the fifty states. It’s another major win for Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has an uncanny knack to sense upcoming political fervor and use it to crank the gears of government into motion. It gives Cuomo the ability to compare himself favorably to previous governors, and to Washington, where President Barack Obama introduced his own package of bills Wednesday.
And yet, the comparison isn't quite right.
To be sure, New York’s government, pre-Cuomo, was famously inactive, kind of like Washington is today. “They destroyed forests with the number of reports that they printed and the numbers of the bills that they printed and the hours of debate and debate and debate,” Cuomo said of previous legislatures at a press conference in Rochester on Wednesday. “But the function of government is to do something…to perform.”
As the governor was blowing the ink dry on his bill, President Obama, surrounded by third graders, somberly announced his own package of gun control bills in Washington. No one expects them to pass within a week
That may say more about New York and the rest of the nation when it comes to guns than it does about Cuomo’s abilities over President Obama’s. New York isn’t Colorado. Even upstate and in rural areas, there isn’t much of a culture of shotguns in pick-up trucks. It’s even hard to remember the last time gun legislation came up in the state, which already has super-tough gun laws (Answer: it was under Republican Governor George E. Pataki, who enacted some laws to protect law enforcement officers from gun violence – and boasted of his achievements.)
Because of gerrymandering, incumbent Congress members in Washington aren’t so much afraid of “the American people.” They’re afraid of facing a primary – in the case of Republican congress members, from the right. That makes it a whole lot harder to support gun legislation than in a state like New York.
The president kind of acknowledged that Wednesday. For this to happen, he said, Americans need to rise up and pressure their elected officials: “And by the way that doesn't just mean from certain parts of the country. We're going to need voices from those areas where the tradition of gun ownership is strong.”